Councilmember concerned about available ambulances in D.C.

WASHINGTON – The District of Columbia. Population: 630,000. Available ambulances: three.

D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells, D-Ward 6, raised new concerns about the city’s emergency response capabilities after visiting the District’s 911 call center.

But D.C. Fire and EMS and the mayor’s office say his claim is out of context.

One source described it as borderline fear mongering and using skewed numbers to benefit his mayoral aspirations.

During his visit to the call center on Monday, Wells learned just three medical transport units were available at that particular moment. All of those were in Northwest.

“The prevailing issues with our fire and emergency medical services fleet readiness are of grave concern to me, the council and the public,” he said in a subsequent statement.

But the the fire department insists the claim about available ambulances overlooks its reserves and exaggerates the alarm.

At the time Wells toured the call center, 36 ambulances were either transporting patients or in the process of returning to service, according to the fire department.

“What (Wells) saw were three units that were not in the business of transporting or treating patients at that time,” says Kenneth Ellerbe, the fire chief.

But in addition to those units, numerous others can respond in the event of an emergency, he says.

Among them: six EMS supervisors, 21 paramedic engine companies and four ambulances at a reserve site.

“If the call comes out, we will be responding to calls for emergency service,” says Ellerbe.

Still, what Wells saw would trigger an alert.

When between five and 10 ambulance units are available for immediate response, an all call goes out to EMS supervisors, battalion chiefs and the fire chief himself.

Wells viewed his troubling visit in the context of other problems plaguing the department.

“Recent failures… to provide transport quickly points to gaps in accountability, fleet management and staffing,” he says.

Listen below to comments on Wells’ observations from Ed Smith, president of D.C. Fire Fighters Association Local 36:

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