- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 28, 2007

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty says he has yet to fix the city’s emergency medical services because he continues to study recommendations, even though he spent two years as a D.C. Council member advocating separation of the agency from the fire department.

When Mr. Fenty, a Democrat, announced the appointment of an interim fire chief last month, he said he also was studying the EMS division, which under the fire department’s administration has struggled with poor training, low morale and inadequate funding.

Yet the mayor’s Jan. 11 written plan on administration goals for its first year did not state whether the EMS division would be separated.

Fenty spokeswoman Mafara Hobson said that the omission was an “oversight” and that an updated plan would be posted on the mayor’s Web site, www.dc.gov.

“He’s going to review options to determine how to proceed with the separation,” she said.

A posting on the site stated that Mr. Fenty planned to “review recommendations for [fire and EMS] reorganization and put together a plan for reform” within 100 days.

Mr. Fenty has taken several bold steps early in his administration, replacing long-serving Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey and introducing legislation that would place the struggling public school system directly under the mayor.

But his deliberate approach toward the fire department contrasts with statements made during an interview in August with The Washington Times while he was seeking the Democratic nomination.

When asked whether he thought the agency should remain under the fire department’s administration, Mr. Fenty said, “The short answer to your question is no.”

Mr. Fenty said that as a council member representing Ward 4, he co-sponsored legislation in 2005 to separate the agencies. He pointed out the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Child and Family Services Agency succeeded only after they were spun off from other city agencies.

“In this city, having a fire department and having EMS under it just has left EMS out of the priority line,” he said at the time.

For more than 15 years, city leaders have pursued a plan to integrate the uniformed fire service with the civilian EMS agency. Supporters say firefighters, who are trained as emergency medical technicians, can respond to critical emergencies faster than ambulances can.

EMS workers say that firefighters are not interested in delivering health care and that response times are improving at the cost of the quality of care.

The department’s resources are intermingled. Some civilian paramedics have opted to transfer to the firefighting division, where they ride aboard fire engines, while firefighters trained as emergency medical technicians staff more than a dozen of the city’s 33 ambulances.

Interim Fire Chief Brian Lee said recently that he thinks firefighters are against a separation.

“Over 90 percent of my employees prefer to keep fire and EMS integrated,” he said. “Integration is on every employee’s mind.”

On Jan. 12, Chief Lee issued an internal memo obtained by The Times that included a report by the Johns Hopkins University School of Professional Studies in Business and Education’s Division of Public Safety Leadership.

The goal of the study, begun during the previous administration, was to “identify significant short-term and long-term issues facing the agency.”

In addition to recommendations such as reviewing the agency’s organizational structure and identifying ways to improve dispatch protocols, the report states that “full integration of fire and EMS should be accomplished within a three-year period.”

Chief Lee said the report was based on an independent survey of department personnel and not meant as a blueprint for the future.

“I will implement whatever the mayor asks me to implement,” he said.

D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz introduced legislation Jan. 9 that would split the agencies.

“I felt that the EMS should get its own separate attention,” said Mrs. Schwartz, at-large Republican. She introduced similar legislation in 2001, 2004 and 2005. But the legislation was shelved each time in the council’s judiciary committee.

“I do believe it’s gaining momentum,” she said. “I think it’s gaining support here at the council.”

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