In the two weeks since private ambulances began operating in the District, emergency medical technicians say they aren’t getting the time to train as they had been promised by fire officials.
What’s more, the D.C. fire department won’t be able to pull ambulances off the streets for training as summer approaches, they told a D.C. Council budget panel Tuesday.
“There has been no increased opportunity for training since [American Medical Response] came on streets 15 days ago,” said Darlene Nelson, vice president of Local 3721 of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents D.C. paramedics.
Ms. Nelson said the union has yet to receive any information on new training plans.
She said training for city paramedics will be obsolete or improvised because of the high number of emergency calls that keep ambulances on the streets and the fire department’s lack of a permanent medical director.
In February the District decided to hire American Medical Response in an effort to give paramedics more time for training. The private ambulance service was deployed in late March.
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Ms. Nelson said if training doesn’t start soon, it might not ever happen because calls for medical services increase during the summer.
Mayor Muriel Bowser’s proposed fiscal 2017 budget for D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services does not note how funds will be allocated for training, Ms. Nelson said, adding that it worries her.
“EMS is not a priority in the budget,” Ms. Nelson told the panel. “When we lost [former medical director] Dr. [Jullette] Saussy, we knew we were in trouble.”
Ms. Nelson read a list of training gaps for EMTs that includes an overhaul of the training academy, remodeling classrooms and updating equipment, active-shooter training and simulations of water rescues. She also said the fire department needs to do a better job of reaching out to residents to let them know when it’s appropriate to call an ambulance.
But D.C. Fire Chief Gregory Dean painted a rosier picture of the first two weeks of private ambulance service.
American Medical Response transported 1,300 patients to hospitals in its first two weeks, Chief Dean reported. The service also was able to get to patients in under 10 minutes about 60 to 70 percent of the time in the first week and 75 percent of the time in the second week, he said.
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The company is supposed to get to patients in under 10 minutes 90 percent of the time, but Chief Dean said he doesn’t expect the ambulance service to reach that goal right away.
Addressing questions about training, Chief Dean denied that emergency medical workers aren’t getting time for training by way of relief from the private ambulance service. In-service training was supposed to start in February, he said, but the resignation of Dr. Saussy delayed training until March 21.
Five city ambulances are taken out of service in the morning and five others in the evening for four hours of training every day, he said, noting that EMTs receive instruction in patient assessment and high performance CPR.
Chief Dean said it would take about six to eight weeks to train everyone, adding that much of the training is hands-on and in groups, rather than just handing trainees a book.
“We want them to learn and train as a team,” he said. “I believe that the training we’re providing at the training academy fits that model.”
To critics, Chief Dean said everyone should take a step back before evaluating a program that’s so young.
“I want to caution that we are only in week three of an initiative that is new to all of us,” he said.