Changes to D.C. Fire Sick Leave Following Death

Dozens of D.C. firefighters called out sick on New Year's Eve

D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services will change sick leave policies following the death of a man who waited longer than a half hour for an ambulance on New Year's Eve, when dozens of firefighters called out sick.

Fire and EMS Chief Kenneth Ellerbe said Wednesday that the most significant change is that supervisors will be required to begin immediately searching for a replacement once an employee calls in sick. Also, firefighters will not be allowed to call in sick to an automated system, talking to someone directly instead.

Other administrative changes are possible, Ellerbe told News4's Jackie Bensen.

Ellerbe also extended his condolences to the family of Durand Ford Jr. His father, 71-year-old Durand Ford Sr., went into cardiac arrest on New Year's Eve.

His family called 911 to request assistance after he began having trouble breathing, Ford said Tuesday night in an exclusive interview with News4's Shomari Stone.

"We're even more saddened because of the circumstances that surround my father's death," Ford said.

Ambulances in D.C. are staffed by firefighters -- and on New Year's Eve, as many as 100 of the District's firefighters called out sick. It's a number the firefighters' union called "unusual."

Ed Smith, the president of D.C. Fire Firefighters Union Local 36, denied there was a coordinated sick-out that night.

Smith said it was a perfect storm of firefighters calling out sick, a lack of hiring, overtime limitations and vacancies due to attrition. He also said management did not bring in extra crews on one of the busiest nights of the year. Smith said management started calling firefighters to come in that afternoon when they realized they were short on staff, which already was too late.

According to dispatch records, the call from Ford's family was logged at 1:25 a.m. At about 1:47 a.m., D.C. Fire and EMS asked Prince George's County Fire for assistance in responding to Ford's family's call.

About a minute later, an ambulance was dispatched from Oxon Hill -- seven miles away from Ford's home on 44th Street SE. The ambulance arrived in 10 minutes.

Ford's home is only a mile and a half from the nearest D.C. firehouse.

Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells said in a statement, "I was very disturbed to learn of the low levels of staffing of firefighters on New Year's Eve. This put the safety of District residents in jeopardy ... whatever personnel and management issues may exist, the safety of the residents of the District of Columbia are non-negotiable."

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