WASHINGTON – D.C. Fire & EMS is coming under fire after a new report raises questions about whether the department is prepared for emergencies.
The Office of the Inspector General says the condition of reserve fire trucks and ambulances are substandard. In the report, officials warn that there may not be enough working vehicles if there was another event like the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
According to Special Order 2007-66, the department must keep at least 70 vehicles on reserve in case of an emergency. The OIG report found that in 2012, many backup vehicles were out of service – some for more than two years. One ambulance was broken for almost 800 days. An FEMS official told investigators that it takes longer to fix some vehicles because they are with out-of-state vendors and the repairs are “beyond the capabilities of FEMS technicians.”
In July, only seven of the required 20 vehicles were present at a storage site near Station 24 on Gallatin Street NE. After testing them, only three of the seven vehicles started.
In August, a FEMS member at Station 6 told investigators that some ambulances are not fully equipped because supplies were stolen and it would take up to an hour to get them ready. The report found that out of the 16 available ambulances at that station, four would not start, four were out-of-service and the key for another ambulance was missing.
FEMS managers also told investigators they were concerned about the quality of repairs.
“There are days when there are no reserve apparatus in the city,” one manager said.
Some stations don’t report problems because the vehicles come back in worse condition after a repair. For example, an alternator was installed into an engine that was too small, so technicians cut the hood to expose part of the engine.
“When the vehicle was driven, dust, and debris flew out from the hole in the hood and into the faces of those riding on the vehicle,” the report stated.
If there were not enough working vehicles, investigators say employees were sent home.
In March 2012, a FEMS told the D.C. City Council that the department operated a fleet of more than 400 vehicles, including 90 reserve vehicles. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe has acknowledged that he unintentionally gave inaccurate information to the council.
An official said there wasn’t enough money to fix the issues in the past and now they are playing catch up. They recently replaced some ambulances, but it could take years before they can get back on track.
In a letter to D.C. Mayor Vince Gray, Ellerbe wrote that the department will review and update their policy.