- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 23, 2001

D.C. Fire Chief Ronnie Few yesterday refused to defend the deteriorating performance of his department or explain why he privately changed a goal for ambulance response times.
The Washington Times first reported yesterday that the performance of the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department is worsening in several key safety areas, including ambulance response times, according to internal documents.
Chief Few has changed one goal for ambulance response times without explanation, but the citys "scorecard" Web site still lists the original goal, which is the service standard. Despite the lower bar, ambulances are still too slow, the documents show.
D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat, yesterday said Chief Few should adopt standards that are consistent from year to year and uniform with fire departments across the nation.
"Were recommending that the department go to the industry standard," said Mrs. Patterson, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which oversees the fire department.
Asked about the inconsistency between the goal in internal documents and the public goal on the Districts Web site, Mrs. Patterson said, "They need to get an up-to-date Webmaster."
"Ambitious goals make a lot of sense, and so do realistic, unvarnished reporting against those goals," she said.
Chief Few did not issue any formal response to The Times report yesterday.
Department spokesman Alan Etter said he wasnt sure if the chief read the article, but Mr. Etter described its content to Chief Few. Mr. Etter said he would relay to the chief a request from The Times for a telephone interview.
Chief Few did not call back by press time.
The public goal is to get Advanced Life Support (ALS) units, commonly referred to as ambulances, to critical calls within eight minutes 90 percent of the time, according to the "scorecard" Web site of Mayor Anthony A. Williams.
But the internal report shows Chief Fews target at 70 percent for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Next year, the target rises to 80 percent.
Despite the lower bar, the ambulances met their mark 46 percent of the time during the first half of this fiscal year — Oct. 1 through March 31 — according to the most current data.
The length of ambulance response times has worsened, too, from 15 minutes, 42 seconds in fiscal 2000 to 16 minutes, 42 seconds halfway through this fiscal year. The goal remains 10 minutes.
Those numbers, Mrs. Patterson said, are "presenting a pretty unvarnished view of the distance they have to go in meeting their performance goals."
"I get the sense that there is still a pretty long way to go," she said.
Mrs. Patterson said the "Front Burner" report also contains some positive statistics, such as a reduced number of structure fires so far this year.
Recruiting efforts and new ambulance units should help the agency, as will a "dual-role, cross-training" bill that the D.C. Council is expected to pass next month, she said.
The bill will more fully merge the firefighting and medical divisions of the department, encouraging personnel on both sides to get trained in the other sides skill.

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