LANHAM, Md. (CBSDC/AP) — The D.C. Fire and EMS Department is touting improved response times in recent months.
In June, first responders arrived to critical calls within six minutes and 30 seconds 92 percent of the time, up from 81 percent of the time in February, according to an internal report.
But according to Ed Smith, head of the D.C. Firefighters Union, the improvement is not without consequences.
“They’re running the firefighters, paramedics, into the ground to accomplish the response times,” he said.
Smith also points out that the response time only counts the amount of time between when an ambulance or fire truck is dispatched to a call until the time that it arrives. It does not include the amount of time between when the call is placed and when a unit is dispatched, he says.
The department has faced criticism this year, partially due to the fact that a man died while waiting for an ambulance on a day when dozens of firefighters called in sick, Jan. 1.
His relatives filed a $12 million wrongful death lawsuit against the department in July. The complaint says he was experiencing shortness of breath when his girlfriend called 9-1-1. An ambulance from neighboring Prince George’s County arrived 30 to 40 minutes later, and was too late to assist him.
Then, in early March, an injured police officer had to wait 15 minutes for an ambulance, also from Prince George’s County, after being involved in a hit-and-run. The fire and emergency medical services department ordinarily has 39 transport units, but when the call for service came in, 10 were out of service.
After that incident, the department ensured that at least two reserve rescue vehicles would be in place in the event that an ambulance was being repaired or needed to be taken out of service.
But later in March, fire chief Kenneth Ellerbe received a ‘no-confidence’ vote from the firefighters’ union. Smith said then that Ellerbe’s mismanagement of the fire department fleet created gaps in coverage that endangered firefighters and district residents.
Ellerbe said in March that the department needed to change to keep up with the emergency medical call volume in the fast-growing city, which is adding more than 1,000 residents a month.
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