WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — The District of Columbia fire department is hiring nine new paramedics as it continues to address a shortage that has led to slow responses to some medical emergencies.

The new hires will start Dec. 2. They still won’t change the number of paramedics on the street at any given time. The district still deploys less than half the paramedics used by urban departments with similar call volumes. And they won’t relieve the stress on the dual-role firefighter-paramedics who are usually the first responders to medical emergencies. The new paramedics are not trained as firefighters and can only ride on ambulances.

Paul Quander, the city’s deputy mayor for public safety, says the new paramedics are filling an “immediate need” and will have the opportunity to become firefighters if they so choose.

There was a very high number of callouts last New Year’s Day and the family of a man who died while waiting for an ambulance that night is suing, claiming negligence. Fire Chief Ken Ellerbe says he’s tightened the rules to clamp down on potential abuse, making employees present a note from a doctor or clinic to prove their illness.

“That seems to have reduced some of the challenges that we faced,” Ellerbe said.

In a presentation to Mayor Vincent Gray and the D.C. Council on Tuesday, Ellerbe touted the addition of 17 new ambulances — 13 more will arrive by year’s end.

Public Safety Committee Chair Tommy Wells thinks maintenance for the troubled fleet is still lacking.

“The average length of time to repair a vehicle is 20 times more than it would be in another city. That’s ridiculous,” Wells said.

WNEW’s Matt DelSignore contributed to this report. Follow him on Twitter.

(TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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