D.C. Fire and EMS Chief Kenneth Ellerbe presided over the graduation of nine new paramedics Thursday. News4's Mark Segraves reports.
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.