WASHINGTON — After D.C.’s outgoing medical director described its Fire and Emergency Medical Response Department as a “toxic” culture that needs changes from the top down, D.C. Council heard from her and other cities on what can be done to improve the department.
“Clearly there is a problem. You knew that when you arrived here,” said council member and Judiciary Committee Chair Kenyan McDuffie to outgoing EMS Medical Director Juliette Saussy.
She testified voluntarily to the committee, which asked her to clarify her reasons for resigning in a biting letter to the mayor that went public.
“During my seven months watching the four or five instances that occurred that seemed to be repetitions of similar instances and yet … their sense of urgency and mine are very different,” Saussy said of what she called the failings of the department.
Council members Mary Cheh, Elissa Silverman and Anita Bonds asked questions of Saussy and her counterparts who flew in from Fort Worth, Texas and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The medical directors discussed how D.C.’s department compares to others around the country.
Saussy told the council the D.C. Fire and EMS organizational chart is heavy in leadership on the fire suppression side, but not on the medical response side, which represents 80 percent of 911 calls.
“I am losing faith,” said Cheh of the department.
“Given where we are today, we have to have a serious conversation about the structure of D.C. Fire and EMS,” she said.
Cheh noted for those present and watching the oversight hearing online that she sat on a task force 10 years ago that handled many of the same issues D.C. Fire continues to face today.
“If something decidedly different doesn’t happen here, the same hearing will happen in 2026. That would be a shame,” said Dr. Jeffrey Goodloe, medical director for Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
The other medical directors went into the protocols at their departments, such as training schedules and how departments follow up on mistakes. Saussy explained for the council members the simple fixes she alleges she was unable to make.
“I was told … there’s a firewall. You’re not involved in policy changes and operations. It’s very difficult to run a system when you don’t have input into the nuts and bolts of the system,” she said.
McDuffie questioned if the city should be entering into a $12 million contract with American Medical Response to supplement ambulance service when EMTs and paramedics on scene decide it’s needed.
“Does a third party contract work if we can’t routinely make these kinds of assessments that are critical,” McDuffie questioned of Saussy’s lack of ability to assess existing training.