D.C. Fire and EMS is about to make a major change in staffing to increase the number of employees working during the busiest hours, but there are questions about whether the plan can be implemented.
D.C. officials estimate that 1,000 new residents move in to the city every month, that and other factors have increased the demand on Fire and EMS services at a time when record numbers of employees are retiring.
The newest-proposed shift changes are a response to changing times, officials said. Internal statistics show that providing emergency medical care is now 85 percent of the workload of what was not long ago known simply as the D.C. Fire Department.
“Our call volume is now highest during the day,” Chief Kenneth Ellerbe said. “And rather than have a two-platoon system where we just deploy folks at 12 hours in the morning and 12 hours at night, we looked at a different model to deploy folks dynamically through the day to respond to higher call volume during the day.”
Union members criticized Ellerbe earlier this year when he attempted to change a decades-old schedule that let first-responders work eight 24-hour shifts per month. That allowed many to live as far away as North Carolina.
The new power shifts will increase the number of paramedics and emergency medical technicians on the street from roughly 25 to 45 during the busiest times of the day, Ellerbe said.
D.C.’s ever-increasing traffic congestion also plays a role.
“We know our employees get worn out in the course of a 12-hour shift if they’re the only ones responding, so what we’re doing now is deploying folks at 9 o’clock, 11 o’clock, 12 o'clock and even 1 o’clock throughout the day to replenish our force – or what we call “force multiply” – during the course of the day when our call volume is highest.” Ellerbe said.
"We have seen the proposal but have not been involved in any talks about implementation," said Charlie Hottinger, a spokesman for the firefighters union. "We certainly have logistical concerns about how it would be put into effect."
A spokesman for the union that represents emergency service providers in the field said that he feels the plan is just what his people need to get some relief.
The power shifts are scheduled to begin in about a month.