Broken air conditioners reduce D.C. ambulance fleet

WASHINGTON — The searing heat is knocking out ambulances in an already troubled fire department.

D.C. Fire and Emergency Services Department deputy chief in charge of fleet management says that air conditioning systems in many of the District’s ambulances have had some “pretty significant failures” after being stressed by the heat this week.

John Donnelly says many of the repair jobs have required six to eight hours of repair work to tear the system apart and replace high pressure lines, air compressors or condensers.

“We’re having pretty significant failures in our air conditioning systems,” Donnelly says.

Ambulances are pulled from service when their air conditioning fails.

Many fire and rescue departments face increased breakdowns in the summer months, but Fairfax County Fire Capt. William Moreland says his department has not had as many breakdowns as D.C.’s department.

On Friday alone, eight ambulances came in for repairs before 2 p.m. Four of them are still in the shop, Donnelly says.

“I would characterize this as fairly normal, but not the condition that we strive for,” he says.

To help deal with the problem, the fire department is getting help from mechanics from the the Department of Public Works and District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority.

The fire department aims to have 39 ambulances on duty, with a few available in reserve to be called on if an active ambulance has a problem.

The D.C. Council recently rejected a fire department plan to have more ambulances active during afternoon hours, with fewer on duty in the early morning.

That vote came after a number of high profile complaints about slow ambulance response times, breakdowns and the use of mutual aid calls to other jurisdictions.

Donnelly says many of the breakdowns this week are in older ambulances that are scheduled to eventually be replaced.

D.C. Firefighters Association President Ed Smith has echoed those concerns about the aging fleet and said that a lack of reserve ambulances has led to delayed responses.

The first of 30 new ambulances ordered by the city are scheduled to go into service in two weeks.

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