The DC press was all over a recent incident where a Metropolitan police motor officer was struck and injured by an auto while stopped in far southeast DC, close to the border with Prince George’s (PG) County, Maryland. No DC ambulances were available and the officer was eventually transported by a PG unit after one was requested.
You would think that no one ever had to wait for an EMS transport unit before.
While this appears to be about “wait times” it is also about how DC works with neighboring jurisdictions. For example, PG, Montgomery, Arlington, Fairfax, Alexandria, etc. have essentially integrated their dispatching protocols at the 911 level so that the closest unit is often dispatched based on their availability. It matters not where they are from.
The fact that a PG ambulance treated and transported the officer should not be an issue, the wait should be. DC Fire and EMS (DCFEMS) or DCFD, whatever you want to call it, should be working to integrate as fully as possible with the other Washington area Council of Government fire departments. (The fact that they are not is amusing, in at least one aspect, since so many DC firefighters volunteer in PG and neighboring Montgomery County, Maryland. They integrated in their own special way.)
The “wait time” issue is thorny, complex and longstanding. This is just one example. DCFEMS Chief Ellerbe seems to want to run the department as if it were a business: staff to meet the demand. If you ran a clothing store and 90% of the customers came in from 5PM to 9PM, you wouldn’t have 90% of your employees working in the morning. They would show up at 5PM. This is hardly rocket science but it is a big change for the department. And, there will be times when an ambulance is not readily available, that’s why we have fire companies with EMS (including Advanced Life Support) capability. That’s also why automatic mutual aid is essential.
And another major issue is leadership: Ellerbe as fire chief and IAFF local 36, the union that represents the members. Has Ellerbe really tried to get labor buy-in for this and other changes? Is labor basically “thumbing their nose” at any healthy and effective change? (It’s easy for labor to be mired in the status quo as leaders are likely to be tenured and not especially fond of rocking the boat.)
Who can argue against a rational model that deploys the resources in such a way that they are likely to be available when most needed? If Ellerbe’s ideas fall within the parameters of a professionally acceptable approach to deployment of fire and EMS resources, the council (and the Mayor) should give them a chance to work.
At the end of the day, the Department (and the union) is made up of a variety of folks with their competing agendas. It would be nice if it were a sure thing that Local 36 was interested in the welfare of the citizens but I am not sure that is the case. As an example, this past New Year’s Eve, 100 folks called in sick resulting in 12 ambulances being placed out-of-service. According to a local media outlet, “one man died from cardiac arrest while waiting for an ambulance on New Year’s Eve.” Some ascribe this to firefighters being pissed off about not receiving holiday pay on Christmas Eve.
Finally, regarding unfilled paramedic positions, it is a widespread problem across the US. Paramedics do a large majority of the work and are often treated like third-class citizens by firefighter co-workers. No wonder people won’t take the jobs or become burned out. Returning to the business aspect for a moment, would Microsoft treat their most productive employees the same way? (We know the answer to that question.)