Members of D.C. Council and others criticized the DC Fire and EMS Department for hours Wednesday in a marathon oversight hearing -- but the head of the department said reforms are on the way.
Fire and EMS Chief Gregory Dean got an earful at the annual hearing, which took on new meaning after the department's medical director abruptly resigned last week, saying the department risks lives by refusing to change.
"The status quo is unacceptable. It's unacceptable. It is costing lives and millions of District dollars in settlements to families who lost loved ones because we just didn't get it right," Councilwoman Elissa Silverman said.
The District's fire and EMS department has been plagued by slow and failed responses to emergencies for years. Nine months ago, Mayor Muriel Bowser brought in a new chief to fix the department, but D.C. Council members said they want to see change faster.
"I am losing faith," Councilwoman Mary Cheh said.
The medical director for Oklahoma City's EMS system, Dr. Jeffrey Goodloe, also criticized the D.C. system.
"Every EMS system has a file that they don't want to talk about, and that's the file of patients that would have been better off calling Uber rather than 911," he said.
Dr. Jullette Saussy was only on the job for seven months, but she testified Wednesday that she saw failure after failure by first responders and no accountability in the department or urgency to change.
"There seems to almost be an immunity to grief here," she said.
Dean rejected the assessment.
"I don't know how you could say that we're immune to grief," he said. "These men and women put their heart and soul into this."
Saussy said she was blocked from assessing the qualifications of EMTs and paramedics.
"One of my biggest issues is that I haven't been able to assess the competency. And when I ask, 'OK, do you have proof of competency?' all they have is a roll of who attended a class, but not a check-off of their patient-assessment skills," she said. "So, we know they attended, but I don't know what they did."
The former D.C. EMS medical director told Councilmembers D.C Fire and EMS doesn't have enough members of top leadership with medical experience. She was asked if Dean had the right medical experience.
"That's a great question for him," she replied.
Dean defended his own experience.
"My ability to work within the system and work with a medical director is proven," he said. "I am not here saying I am an expert in medicine. I am here saying that together I think we can improve the system."
Dean insisted he's working to fix the problems and that using a private ambulance service will go a long way to help.
"We believe that a third-party provider would be the bridge to allow us to be able to do the training, to do our preventative maintenance," he said. "We have not moved off that."