D.C. to keep 2 ambulances on standby

WASHINGTON – The D.C. Fire Department has rolled out a new program to keep backup ambulances on hand to fill in if other vehicles break down or need maintenance.

The announcement comes just three days after a District police officer was seriously injured in a car crash and had to wait for an ambulance. A crew from Prince George’s County eventually came to his aid because no District ambulances were available.

The fire department now has two ambulances ready on standby for use by crews without a functioning truck, Deputy Mayor Paul Quander said at a press conference Friday called to address ambulance response times.

Fire and EMS Chief Kenneth Ellerbe said the plan was rolled out Thursday but has been in the works for a while.

“We know that we are at a tipping point in terms of providing service to the community. We’ve been saying that for almost two years now. It’s time for us to make a change in the way we deliver service. That’s one of the things we’re working on,” Ellerbe said.

D.C. officials say they’re investigating Tuesday night’s response to the injured police officer.

Quander said that the department ordinarily has 39 transport units available. When the emergency call came in for the injured officer, 10 ambulances were out of service. He says he hasn’t been able to determine whether some of the units went out of service inappropriately.

He’s focusing on at least three units to determine whether they improperly went out of service, Quander said.

Councilman Tommy Wells wants to know whether such cases are a sign of a systematic problem or isolated incidents.

On New Year’s Day, a District man died after waiting more than 30 minutes before an ambulance finally arrived. He arrived at the hospital an hour after the first call for help. About one quarter of D.C. rescuers scheduled to work the holiday called off sick.

And Thursday night, a stroke patient was rushed to the hospital on a fire truck. Wells says that incident so far appears unconnected to any ambulance shortage.

Wells said fire officials told him that time is critical for stroke patients and transporting the patient by fire truck may be the best option.

But he plans to hold an oversight hearing in two weeks to get answers. No date has been set. Wells says that the fire department needs a few weeks to review the matter first.

Firefighter union president Ed Smith welcomes the review. He says the department needs more personnel and equipment.

Smith believes the department’s fleet of ambulances and fire engines lack preventative maintenance. And he would like the department to have more backup fire trucks and ambulances, available in case vehicles need to be taken out of service for repairs.

Smith also says the District needs to plan ahead for the needs of the city’s growing population.

WTOP’s Max Smith and The Associated Press contributed to this report. Follow @amaxsmith and WTOP on Twitter.

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