- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 8, 2001

Ambulance medics failed to show up when a tourist suffered a heart attack at the FDR Monument over the weekend. On April 9, the family of a sick 76-year-old man drove him to the hospital after waiting an hour for an ambulance. A few days earlier, an injured Amtrak worker died after rescue personnel were sent to the wrong address.
D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Chief Ronnie Few is scrambling to fix — and explain — a communications system that seems to flounder periodically. After the Amtrak incident, he declared such mistakes would end and said he was sending dispatchers "back to basics" for training.
At least four such blunders have occurred since he took over about a year ago, and two of the incidents ended in death.
In the most recent incident, a U.S. Park Police officer who happened to have paramedic certification took over medical care of a 69-year-old New Jersey woman experiencing chest pain on Saturday. Park Police officials said they were told a city ambulance was not available. The officer used an automatic defibrillator to restart the womans breathing, and she was evacuated by Park Police helicopter to a hospital.
Fire department spokesman Alan Etter denied there is a systemic problem with the dispatching process or ambulances, and said communication officials are examining the tapes from both recent incidents. He said an ambulance was dispatched to the incident on Saturday.
"Were dealing with some isolated instances," Mr. Etter said. "Each one is being taken very seriously. If additional training is needed, then that will be ordered. If corrective steps need to be taken, then thats done, too."
Aubrey Carter of Northwest was lucky enough to survive another miscommunication between an ambulance crew and a dispatcher on April 9.
But that call, according to an internal fire department memo obtained by The Washington Times, was plagued by foul-ups and mistakes on basic procedures.
"It was kind of a double comedy of errors," said one fire official.
The ambulance crew failed to monitor its radio and respond to the call, and the dispatcher failed to find another medic unit or inform firefighters on the scene what was happening, according to the memo and sources.
"This is one of the worst displays of customer service that I personally have ever been involved in, and truly the most embarrassing," a paramedic on the scene wrote in the memo about the emergency medical call in the 1300 block of Madison Street NW.
Mr. Carter was suffering from shortness of breath, body ache and a fever of 101 degrees when a paramedic engine company of firefighters arrived at about 6:30 p.m. Ambulance No. 2 had just left a fire station seven blocks from the emergency when it was assigned to the same run, according to the memo and fire department officials.
After a half hour, firefighters called the communications division on the radio and by phone. The paramedic who called on the phone was put on hold and never got an answer.
Talking to the dispatcher didnt help, either.
The firefighter was "trying to tell her to get another ambulance. She never picked up on that," an official familiar with the incident told The Times.
As for the medics in ambulance No. 2, "they werent acknowledging. Its like they were lost. Obviously, they dropped the ball," the official said.
After the ambulance crew failed to respond to the emergency, the dispatcher should have listed them as "out of service and unavailable" and found another unit, the official said.
"She was making excuses like, 'My computer is messed up. My computer is slow, or the system is messed up," the official said.
"Subsequently, during the ridiculous wait time along with treating the patient, we truly had to console and constantly apologize the family member for the poor customer service," the memo addressed to Chief Few states.
"[T]he family suggested and was extremely sure that he wanted his father to [be] placed in their personal vehicle, so that they could go to the hospital and receive the appropriate care," the memo states. "After the patient was en route to the hospital, the run was finally reassigned to [an] ambulance."
The dispatcher, who has not been identified, was relieved of duty and sent home that evening, according to fire department sources.
Terry Carter told The Times yesterday he wasnt aware of all the mistakes surrounding his fathers emergency, but he said the paramedics stabilized his father and calmed the situation.
"I think everything is OK. I hope it never happens again. I was just tired and frustrated a little bit. I was just glad to get him there," he said.
Gloria Carter watched in puzzlement from in front of her home a block away as firefighters stabilized her father.
"The fire personnel were just standing around. There was nothing they could do," she said. "There really wasnt much they could do because without an ambulance, theres not much anybody can do."
"This is the District. What do you expect?"


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