D.C. sued over death of man who waited 30 minutes for ambulance

The family of a District man who died of a heart attack after waiting about 30 minutes for an ambulance in the early hours of New Year’s Day has filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the D.C. fire department.

The suit was filed Tuesday in D.C. Superior Court on behalf of the children and the longtime companion of Durand A. Ford Sr., a 71-year-old retired accountant who collapsed in his Southeast Washington home about 90 minutes into the new year.

The suit says Ford waited 30 to 40 minutes after his partner, Patricia Williams, placed a 911 call to report his shortness of breath.

An ambulance from Prince George’s County eventually arrived, but Ford died. The family later received a $780 bill from the city for ambulance service.

Ford’s family filed suit on the same day that D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) called on D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth B. Ellerbe to resign. Cheh was responding to a report issued last week that questioned the Fire and EMS Department’s readiness and management.

The report was released by the D.C. Council’s public safety committee, which also rejected Ellerbe’s plan to address ambulance response times by changing deployment schedules. The vote reflected a lack of confidence in Ellerbe’s leadership, some council members said.

Several incidents have raised concerns about ambulance response times and emergency medical care. In March, for instance, a D.C. police officer who had been hit by a car waited at least 15 minutes for an ambulance while three ambulances were improperly out of service.

The suit by Ford’s family cited reports that dozens of D.C. firefighters had called in sick the day Ford needed help. “Durand Ford Sr.’s ultimate death was the direct and proximate result of the grossly negligent acts and/or omissions of Defendants,” the suit alleges.

City officials have maintained that a firefighter trained in advanced life support arrived at Ford’s home within 10 minutes of being dispatched and that the ambulance delay did not contribute to Ford’s death.

The lawsuit seeks $10 million in compensatory damages and $2 million in punitive damages, according a court document.

Clarence Williams is the night police reporter for The Washington Post and has spent the better part of 13 years standing next to crime scene tape, riding in police cars or waking officials in the middle of night to gather information about breaking news in and around Washington.

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