- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 4, 2002

Only four of 29 members of a D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services class passed a national exam to qualify as paramedics last month, city fire department sources said.
FIre Chief Ronnie Few reassured the D.C. Council in December and again last month that the city's shortage of medics would be bolstered by the addition of the 15 emergency medical technicians (EMT) and 14 firefighters who began the class in October.
Of those, 18 completed the course. Three firefighters and one EMT passed the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians exam last month, which is required of paramedics in the District, fire department sources said.
The students who did not pass the exam are allowed two more chances to retest within a year. But the fire department's inability to put the paramedics immediately on the street is a setback for an agency that has been unable to consistently recruit from outside the city.
About half of the department's 160 paramedic positions are vacant, according to paramedics union leaders.
Fire department officials were unavailable for comment last night.
The department has had shortages of paramedics in its advanced life-support ambulances and has been unable to fully staff its paramedic engine company program. The engines, which have a faster response time than ambulances, are staffed with a paramedic and can bring advanced life support to a patient within six minutes.
One goal the fire department has not met for two years is increasing the number of paramedic engine companies from six to eight. Failure to meet the goal on Mayor Anthony A. Williams' "scorecard" of agency performance is one reason Chief Few did not receive a performance bonus from the city government this year.
Recruiting new paramedics has become even more important because the D.C. Department of Health will adopt in October the expanded training requirements of the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Standard Curriculum, the federal guideline for emergency medical care.
Instead of a 5-month certificate program, the paramedic-training course will expand to a two-year degree program.
The paramedic class was the first of two that Chief Few had hoped to complete before the standards change. A second class is scheduled to begin Monday.
Department sources said the class was troubled from the start and ultimately employed three sets of instructors and coordinators. Students who are full-time department employees, whose positions are filled by personnel on overtime also were required to switch study materials midway through the course.
In the fourth week of class, the first instructor quit. Chief Few attributed the instructor's sudden departure to personal reasons, but department sources said the instructor had not been paid and had complained of a lack of departmental support.
Students' first opportunity to retake the exam will be next month, and any who fail it will be required to take a 40-hour refresher course before their final attempt.
The current paramedic-training class is the District's first. Previously, the department had paid for EMTs to attend private classes to obtain their paramedic certification.
In 2000, the fire department taught an EMT intermediate course. Of the 21 who completed the course, eight passed the national registry exam, with three succeeding on their first try.

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