- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 1, 2005

The D.C. Health Department has failed to conduct annual inspections of city ambulances, which are in service without certification for sanitary conditions or medical readiness.

The most notable case is a reserve ambulance being used by the crew of Medic 1, which traditionally participates in presidential motorcades and is the first ambulance to the White House during a medical emergency.

The reserve ambulance has operated with an expired health permit since May.

“There are some units that have expired [health] stickers,” acknowledged Alan Etter, a District fire department spokesman. “This was a miscommunication between the D.C. Department of Health and the D.C. Fire and EMS Department.”

Two hours after a Washington Times reporter inquired about the expired health permits, a Times photographer located Medic 1 outside of George Washington University Hospital in Northwest, then observed a health department official inspecting the ambulance and replacing the expired sticker with one valid into next year.

The official also inspected two other ambulances. The health department ordinarily goes to firehouses to check ambulances for adequate supplies of oxygen, bandages and medications and to ensure monitors, defibrillators and other equipment are working. The inspectors also make sure an ambulance is free of dirt and blood and that conditions are sanitary. They also verify the credentials of the ambulance crews.

“If any deficiency is found, it is abated immediately,” Mr. Etter said.

He also said health department officials sent a memo to the fire department on Aug. 4 indicating that an inspection schedule would be forthcoming. However, no such schedule followed, Mr. Etter said.

A health department spokeswoman did not return phone messages seeking comment.

It was not clear yesterday which agency was responsible for the lapse, nor whether either agency, or both agencies, could face sanctions for failing to maintain the health permits.

Mr. Etter said it was not clear how many ambulances were in service with the expired health permits.

He said the problem was brought to the attention of Emergency Medical Services officials yesterday morning, but he did not know how the officials learned of the expired permits. Mr. Etter was not aware of any incidents in which an ambulance was taken out of service for failing an inspection.

The reserve ambulance being used by the crew of Medic 1 was pressed into service in the middle of July when the crew’s front-line ambulance was sent away for repairs. Last month it accompanied the presidential motorcade to Andrews Air Force Base when President Bush traveled to Crawford, Texas.

The expired stickers are the latest problem for the city’s troubled ambulance service.

The Times reported earlier this week that repairs and maintenance over the weekend crippled half the city’s fleet of ambulances, exhausted its reserves and forced medics to respond to emergency calls in sport utility vehicles and sedans.

Medics have also complained in recent months that veterinary equipment made its way on to ambulances beside medical equipment. They also said supervisors ordered them to use expired drugs when medications were in short supply.

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