A firefighter clean a fire engine at Engine 16 in 2011. (Carol Guzy/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Nine months ago, having just retired as chief of the Seattle Fire Department, I arrived in the District, eager to work for D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who was looking for a proven leader to reform the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.

Upon arriving, I embarked on a six-month process to review and evaluate the department to better understand operations and set a new course for the future. After decades of underinvestment, poor training and a lack of leadership, I knew there would be no easy answers.

I also knew we would need bold solutions to break up the status quo.

I heard loud and clear from the mayor, D.C. officials and residents that the community’s demand for emergency medical services had outpaced the department’s ability to deliver them. EMS call volume had climbed 20 percent since 2010, but EMS resources remained stagnant. We spent our days chasing calls and trying to get our units back from the hospitals. Our firefighters and emergency medical technicians have not had adequate time to participate in regular training, and our vehicles were tapped out and breaking down. Many of our paramedics (who are frequently cross-trained as firefighters) responded to too many low-acuity calls, pulling them away from more urgent situations.

As a first step toward reform, we must address call volume. Otherwise, we will constantly be chasing our tails. That is why the mayor and I put forward a plan, unanimously approved by the council in October, to contract with a third party to transport basic EMS patients to hospitals.

The $9 million in funding for the first year represents the largest investment in EMS reform by any D.C. mayor in recent history. We recently entered into an emergency contract with American Medical Response to transport patients from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. seven days a week.

On its own, this contract will not reform our EMS system, but it is a critical step. Supplementing our resources with a third-party provider will enable us to create a more effective system that matches the right resources with the right calls. It will allow us to better meet our response-time goals, more frequently train our providers, preserve resources for our highest-acuity patients, provide better field supervision and performance evaluation, do preventive maintenance on our fleet and improve the agency culture around EMS. This initiative will give us the time and space we need to do what we do best: practice medicine in the field, saving more lives.

While we have been setting up the third-party program, we have been hard at work on a number of other efforts. We hired 74 new firefighters and emergency medical technicians and held the training academy’s first entrance exam since 2007 . We are purchasing and receiving new vehicles and working with the Office of Unified Communications to improve our 911 dispatch process. We have trained more than 4,100 people in hands-only CPR as part of our “Hands on Hearts” initiative, which is one of our strategies to increase the District’s cardiac arrest survival rate. Our goal was to train 5,000 people this fiscal year; we will surpass that goal in the coming weeks.

The District is heading in the right direction. But the proof will be in the pudding. We will be transparent and patient-focused in measuring our performance. In fact, for the first time, the department’s performance plan includes goals that measure patient outcomes as well as our providers’ compliance with medical protocols for time-sensitive illnesses. We are now talking about EMS in a way that goes beyond focusing only on response times.

While I’m not a veteran of D.C. FEMS, I’ve been here long enough to see how much our providers care about our patients. They are out there on the front lines every day, giving their hearts and souls to District residents. In 2015, our team of 1,800 first responders responded to 160,000 EMS calls. In the vast majority of those calls, our providers responded quickly and competently, despite the department’s challenges.

The challenges we face did not materialize overnight, and we won’t fix them overnight. We are going to use all of the tools at our disposal to build on our gains. And I am confident that we are on the right path toward making the District safer and stronger.

The writer is chief of the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.