- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 8, 2001

A Thanksgiving-night emergency in which a child was taken to hospital in a fire engine points up severe staffing shortages in the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, according to department sources.
D.C. firefighters had to drive a 2-year-old boy with severe breathing problems to Children's Hospital in their fire engine Thanksgiving night after waiting 30 minutes for an ambulance to arrive, the boy's mother and fire department sources said.
Dolores Walker said her son, Terence, awoke in a fit of violent coughing and wheezing just before 9 p.m. on Nov. 22. She said he didn't respond when she held him and called his name. Less than 10 minutes after she dialed 911, a fire engine from Engine Co. 10 arrived at her home in the 1000 block of 18th Street NE.
Firefighters, who are trained as emergency medical technicians, administered oxygen but Terence remained unconscious. As minutes went by and no ambulance arrived, Mrs. Walker began to panic, and the firefighters grew nervous.
"I started crying. I said, 'Terence, Terence,' and he never opened his eyes. He never responded," Mrs. Walker said.
She said the lieutenant in charge yelled into his radio, "Look, this is a 2-year-old. We need somebody here."
Half an hour after she placed the emergency call, the firefighters saw the lights of an ambulance parked a block away. The firefighters then took Terence from her arms and ran to the end of the block to flag it down, she said. But the ambulance crew, on its way to Mrs. Walker's home, had decided to stop to help a pedestrian who had been struck by a car on 17th Street.
By that time, Mrs. Walker said, the lieutenant in charge had had enough. He ordered Terence to be put in the fire engine.
"His main concern was getting my baby to the hospital the quickest way he could," she said.
En route to Children's Hospital the engine was met by a rapid response vehicle with a paramedic on board. The paramedic boarded the fire engine and accompanied Terence the rest of the way.
Doctors at the hospital determined that Terence had croup, an infection that causes the trachea and larynx to swell. He was treated and released early the next morning.
Fire department communications director Lisa Bass said the incident is "of interest" and the department is "looking into it," but several fire department sources confirmed Mrs. Walker's account.
The sources said Terence was further put in jeopardy because Engine 10 was not staffed with a paramedic on Thanksgiving and could not provide advanced life support, despite the fact that it is one of the city's six paramedic fire engine companies.
These companies are designed to cut the response time for providing advanced life support from the 12 to 13 minutes taken on average by an ambulance to the six to eight minutes customarily taken by a fire engine.
None of the six paramedic engine companies, however, has enough rescue workers to provide advanced life support 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Some are on sick leave and others have been transferred to other duties. Also, others have left the department and have not been replaced.
Results posted on Mayor Anthony A. Williams' "scorecard" indicate that the goal of adding two more paramedic engine companies by December 2000 still has not been met.
As part of the "dual role cross-training" system between firefighters and paramedics, all 33 of the city's engine companies are supposed to eventually become paramedic engine companies staffed by three firefighters and a paramedic firefighter.
Yesterday, three of the six paramedic engine companies operated without a paramedic.

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