- The Washington Times - Monday, August 12, 2013

A D.C. fire department ambulance customarily accompanies a presidential motorcade as it departs from the White House. But when a motorcade left Thursday, the ambulance remained behind on the South Lawn.

It had run out of gas.

In the latest blow to the reputation of the city’s beleaguered ambulance fleet, fire officials confirmed that the first-due medical responder to the White House had to be taken out of service while on a run to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

“The unit apparently did run out of gas, but a replacement unit was put in its place,” D.C. fire department spokesman Tim Wilson said Monday.

Mr. Wilson said he could not confirm that the ambulance was on motorcade duty, but sources close to the incident who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly said the unit was in the motorcade line when the engine gave out at about 5 p.m.

The sources said the operator of Medic 1 indicated that the fuel gauge was broken and the driver was uncertain how much gas was in the vehicle. They also said the operator previously documented the problem.

Mr. Wilson said an internal investigation is underway to determine whether the vehicle was properly fueled.

“To my knowledge, prior to this incident there was no report of any problem with the fuel gauge,” he said. “If there was, no operator prior to this had reported that.”

A Secret Service spokesman declined to comment on the incident, deferring to the D.C. fire department.

D.C. Firefighters Association President Ed Smith confirmed the report and said it was also his understanding that the ambulance operator blamed a faulty fuel gauge. He said the incident, coming on the heels of a series of high-profile problems with the city’s ambulances, are making the department a “national embarrassment.”

“This just highlights a fleet that’s been broken down and in disrepair,” he said.

The Washington Times reported last week that nearly three-fourths of the fire department’s ambulance fleet had to be pulled from the streets for repairs during a July heat wave that wreaked havoc on the units’ air conditioning systems.

A total of 67 ambulances required some type of mechanical service from July 19-26, with 22 ambulances requiring service more than two times, officials said. The department maintains 94 ambulances, though not all are functional.

Thirty-nine ambulances are supposed to be available to respond to emergency calls in the District at all times, and after a series of breakdowns in the past, agency heads promised to dedicate at least four ambulances as reserve units that could be put back onto the streets immediately in the case of a failure.

Medic 1’s traditional responsibilities have included responding to emergency calls at the executive mansion and traveling with the presidential motorcade. Mr. Wilson said he could not — and for security reasons would not — say how frequently Medic 1 is called to the White House.

• Matthew Cella can be reached at mcella@washingtontimes.com.

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