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Council panel nixes fire chief’s ambulance plan

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A D.C. Council committee will not support the fire department's ambulance redeployment plan — a key proposal by the fire chief — because the agency has been unable to provide clear answers about its capacity to address the city's emergency services needs.

In a statement issued Thursday to announce markups on several bills, D.C. Council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, said the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety would recommend disapproval of the plan.

"The Committee does not believe that the Department is equipped — with adequate information or resources — to execute the proposed plan," a committee report states.

The ambulance redeployment plan, introduced by fire Chief Kenneth B. Ellerbe in November, would reduce the number of ambulances providing critical care overnight, instead making additional advanced life-support ambulances available to respond to calls during busier daytime hours.

The number of ambulances available during the peak hours of 1 to 7 p.m. would increase from 39 to 45 units. Ambulances staffed by lesser-trained emergency medical technicians would be used overnight to provide basic life support, and cross-trained firefighter-paramedics and paramedic supervisors could administer more advanced aid as needed.

The plan, and the fire department's ability to respond to the District's growing emergency services needs, have come under scrutiny in recent months after a series of high-profile gaffes. In addition to several incidents when ambulances have not been able to respond to emergency calls, the fire chief admitted in March that the department had been operating for more than a year with an outdated list of department apparatus that included vehicles that had been sold or scrapped.

News that the committee intends to vote down the redeployment plan was a "surprise" to fire department spokesman Lon Walls, who declined to comment further.

Previously, Mr. Wells had expressed displeasure that the council has had to weigh in on the department's redeployment plan at all, saying that it was not the council's place. However, D.C. law requires that the council approve any "major changes in the manner" the department's services.

The committee report notes that disapproval is not based on the merits of the plan itself, rather that members are not wholly convinced the plan will work at this time, at least partly because they don't have confidence the department has enough working ambulances to constantly deploy 45 units.

"To be very clear, the Committee does not oppose [the fire department's] implementing a redeployment plan that features peak staffing. The Committee opposes moving forward with a plan that has been formed without critical information about the Department's current capacity for service," the report states.

The report also notes that the department has failed to recruit enough paramedics or establish a training program for them and that it has spent excessive amounts of money on overtime because of the lack of paramedics.

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