- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Paramedics in the District are using sport utility vehicles and Ford Crown Victorias to respond to medical emergencies because of a shortage of ambulances in the city’s fleet.

Crews had to resort to the alternate vehicles during the weekend on discovering that reserve ambulances already had been pressed into service to replace units under repair.

Fire officials conceded there was a shortage Sunday that forced one crew to respond to an emergency in a nontransport vehicle.

Alan Etter, a spokesman for the fire department, said the incident was caused by a high volume of heat-related medical calls. He said the department has three or four ambulances left on reserve.

“It’s one of those situations when they get down a little closer than they would like it to be,” he said.

But paramedics working during the weekend told a different story.

“Supervisors tried every which way to keep the paramedics on duty,” one medic said.

Some emergency response departments, including the District’s, employ specialized nontransport vehicles, commonly referred to as “fly cars” or “rapid response vehicles,” that are supplied with medical equipment.

The vehicles allow paramedics to administer advanced life support and move on to the next call while emergency medical technicians transport and wait with the patient at the hospital.

The District has two such units — SUVs marked with symbols identifying them as rapid-response vehicles. The vehicles pressed into service this past weekend were department-owned Crown Victorias usually driven by supervisors.

“This is absurd,” said Kenneth Lyons, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 3721, which represents the city’s paramedics and emergency medical technicians. “We are at a tipping point here when it comes to something as easily purchasable as an ambulance.”

A source said there has been a rash of accidents in the past few months and that the department is attempting to make an emergency purchase of additional ambulances.

Mr. Etter confirmed that fire officials were looking at new ambulances Monday and plan to buy more units “very shortly.”

On any given day, the department operates 51 ambulances. However, the numbers fluctuate as ambulances break down or require routine maintenance.

Of the 51 units, 33 respond to 911 calls and transport patients to hospitals.

Twelve ambulances are part of the emergency mobilization plan, from which the department deploys units to special events, such as Washington Nationals home games.

Four ambulances are held in reserve in case a front-line ambulance breaks down. Two ambulances are used by supervisors to train medics.

Mr. Lyons blamed the shortage on “mismanagement.”

“We warned them a long time ago we were getting to this point,” he said. “Now we’re managing by crisis.”

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