- The Washington Times - Monday, January 30, 2006

The D.C. Council member with oversight of emergency medical services has defended the care provided by the firefighters who treated slain New York Times reporter David Rosenbaum.

Phil Mendelson, an at-large Democrat who heads the judiciary committee, said his review of the incident is contrary to critics’ claims that firefighters working as emergency medical technicians, or EMTs, inadequately assessed and treated Mr. Rosenbaum after he was robbed and struck on the head Jan. 6 in the 3800 block of Gramercy Street Northwest.

Mr. Rosenbaum died two days later.

“Everything I have seen indicates that the firefighter EMTs performed correctly,” Mr. Mendelson said.

The council member rejected the suggestion that the incident is an indictment of the fire department’s dual-role cross-training system that has firefighters trained as EMTs and paramedics responding to medical calls.

“I think folks who are trying to use this to further the angle that firefighters can’t do EMS are being irresponsible,” he said.

Alan Etter, a fire department spokesman, said Chief Adrian H. Thompson remains committed to the dual-role cross-training system that ultimately will unify the fire department by eliminating civilian EMT and paramedic positions and cross-training firefighters and paramedics to perform each other’s jobs.

“In fact, this incident has fortified his position that dual-role cross-training is what is necessary,” Mr. Etter said.

It still is not clear why the ambulance driver, a civilian EMT employed by the EMS division, chose to take Mr. Rosenbaum to Howard University Hospital. In an earlier statement, Chief Thompson said the choice of the hospital was up to the ambulance crew.

Fire officials,however, never have explained why the EMT chose Howard University Hospital instead of Georgetown University Hospital or Sibley Memorial Hospital, which are closer. The department has since issued revised guidelines stating that ambulance crews should proceed to the closest available hospital.

The District’s inspector general is investigating the response.

The fire department has acknowledged that an advanced life-support ambulance carrying paramedics was closer to the location and available at the time of the call. However, Mr. Rosenbaum’s injuries did not appear to be life-threatening based on the details relayed to the 911 communications center, so the call was classified as a basic life-support call and assigned to an ambulance carrying lesser-trained EMTs.

About half of the city’s ambulances carry EMTs, who are trained to assess a patient’s condition and manage respiratory and cardiac emergencies. All firefighters who started working in the District after 1978 are expected to maintain certification as EMTs. In fact, four ambulances are staffed exclusively by firefighters, and other firefighters fill in on ambulances on an as-needed basis.

The other ambulances — and about eight firetrucks — carry paramedics, who are trained to perform more-advanced medical procedures. For example, paramedics may administer drugs orally and intravenously and perform intubations.

The fire department routinely holds back paramedics from noncritical calls so they will be free to respond to higher-priority emergencies. At some point, the department plans to have all ambulances staffed with at least one paramedic so that the closest ambulance always could be sent on any call.

Through recruiting and training, the department slowly has begun to emerge from a yearslong critical shortage of paramedics. Ultimately, the fire chief hopes to have a paramedic on board every firetruck because firetrucks respond to emergencies faster than ambulances.

Council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, introduced legislation in last January that would create an emergency medical services division separate from the fire department.

The legislation was co-sponsored by council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, at-large Democrat, Adrian Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat and Kwame Brown, at-large Democrat.

Mr. Mendelson said he was preparing to announce the members of a blue-ribbon commission that would study whether emergency medical services would be delivered more effectively through an independent agency, through an autonomous division within the fire department or under the current structure.

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