Report: D.C. Fire and EMS Understaffed, Over Budget

A report set to be released Friday shows D.C. Fire and EMS has a serious shortage of paramedics, is using outdated and incorrect information and is exceeding its budget by millions and millions of dollars.

News4's I-Team investigated ambulance delays following the death of a 53-year-old man last December. An ambulance was deployed to his home 10 minutes after an initial call, but a paramedic to conduct "Advanced Life Support" was not on board. That crew arrived 20 minutes after the first 911 call, and the man died five days later.

Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe testified in March only 58 of the District's 111 ambulances were in service, and only 245 paramedics were employed, short of a target of 300.

Last month, an ambulance broke down along Interstate 295 while transporting a gunshot victim.

D.C. Councilman Tommy Wells told News4 he was angry and frustrated by the 29-page report's findings.

"I'm very concerned about the current status of [D.C.] Fire and EMS and I'm very unhappy about it," Wells said.

The report spells out three major areas of concern regarding the department:

  • Staffing: The department has failed to adequately hire, recruit, internally train or retain paramedics resulting in shortages that are putting the system in crisis
  • Ambulances and fire trucks: The department's fleet readiness is in a state of crisis
  • Budget: The department is poised to spend more than $8 million in overtime during fiscal year 2013

The report also states since last year, only 16 of 424 shifts have been fully staffed.


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In the past four years, 911 calls in the District increased by 22 percent, but D.C. Fire and EMS has been deploying the same number of ambulances.

"It is a question of leadership. If I become mayor, there will be a new government," Wells said, adding there will "absolutely" be a new fire chief to replace Kenneth Ellerbe, if he is elected.

Wells said due to all the problems with the department, he said he will not support Ellerbe's redeployment plan that would put more paramedics on duty during the hours when most calls come in. This would also reduce the number of paramedics during the rest of the day.

"I have no problem if they want to add ambulances, but I don't think they should be able to take them away at any time," Wells said.

Ellerbe declined to be interviewed by News4 Thursday, or even issue a written response to the report, but Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Paul Quander issued a statement about the council's rejection of the redeployment plan.

"It is unfortunate that the council committee would hamstring the fire chief and the public safety cluster in advancing its mission to best protect the public," Quander wrote.

News4's Mark Segraves spoke with several council members who all plan to reject the plan during a vote Friday.

Councilwoman Mary Cheh said the report should send a message to Ellerbe that his job is "on the bubble."


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