After months of understaffed firehouses and ambulances, nine new paramedics joined the D.C. Fire and EMS Thursday.
The "single-role" paramedics are the first of their kind to join the department in nearly a decade, according to a news release from the District. They would be solely responsible for providing medical care in emergency situations, instead of juggling the role of a paramedic with that of a firefighter.
The fire department says one out of every five calls in the District requires a paramedic. Paramedics are able to provide advanced life support, or ALS, such as administering life-saving drugs, using complex defribillators and intubating patients.
A variance has been granted to the D.C. Fire department to hire these "single-role" paramedics through September 2014.
According to documents obtained by the News4's I-Team, the D.C. Fire Department had 181 vacancies -- including firefighters and paramedics -- as of June 2013.
During the Navy Yard shooting last month, the News4 I-Team learned nine D.C. fire stations were operating without paramedics. Thursday's graduating class responded to the site of the shooting -- Building 197 -- and provided treatment to the victims, according to Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe.
"That's something I'll never forget," Ellerbe said. "We've heard a lot of folks say what we can't do. When they got off the bus with that equipment on M Street [on the day of the shooting], I saw what we can do."
Ambulance units at Company 7 and Company 8, the closest stations to the Navy Yard, were operating in a "downgraded" status -- meaning they did not have a paramedic on board who could offer advanced life-saving services.
Ellerbe says by December 2013, the department will be staffed with 30 new ambulances and another class of paramedics.