Loose Lips

Why So Many Broken Ambulances?

District officials are currently investigating why no D.C. ambulances were available to transport a seriously injured police officer near the intersection of Benning Road SE and East Capitol Street to the hospital last Tuesday. One possible reason: the city's fire department has a lot of broken ambulances.

The city is supposed to have 39 ambulances available to respond to calls at any given time. When an emergency dispatcher was looking for an ambulance to transport the wounded police officer Tuesday, four ambulances were out of service for mechanical reasons, according to fire union boss Ed Smith.

That's more than 10 percent of what's supposed to be the city's in-service fleet. The fire department referred questions about Tuesday's incident to Pedro Ribeiro, the mayor's spokesman, who says the city's investigation will be wide-reaching and will examine current equipment readiness levels.

At an oversight hearing last month, the fire department said it had 106 "EMS transport units" on hand, which suggests that there ought to be plenty of reserve ambulances ready to go into service should any of the 39 on-duty ambulances break down. But that obviously wasn't the case Tuesday.

Keeping its equipment in working order has been a vexing problem for the fire department for quite some time, and Tuesday's incident seems to indicate that it's still a long way from finding an answer. Last year LL detailed how the city's lone tower truck, which is supposed to help rescue the president should there be a fire at the White House, was often out of service and was a "piece of crap," according to one of its operators.

Also last year, the city's inspector general issued a report saying that the department's only boat capable of handling large-scale emergencies was "obsolete and its upkeep has been neglected," the Examiner reported. And a couple weeks ago, Ward 6 Councilmartyr Saint Tommy Wells asked the inspector general to investigate why the fire department's mechanics were pulling in huge amounts of overtime. The union representing the mechanics says it's because the fire department hasn't properly staffed its repair shop and the workload is enormous. All of the top 14 fire department employees making the most overtime are mechanics, city records show. One mechanic nearly tripled his salary last fiscal year, earning more than $97,000 in overtime alone.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery


  1. #1

    Why did I see DCFD Amb 10 driving North on US 1 in Elkridge yesterday? Not being towed, but being driven!

  2. #2

    Probably for repairs somewhere other than the fire dept shop. About all they do there is change tires.

  3. #3

    What would this city do if we were to suffer a huge attack that required ambulance service for hundreds of people at one time? With such a controversy and little actual details being released by the Administration the only that that I think is clear is that the Fire Department is being mismanaged! There is reason here to be concerned folks! Chief Ellerbe has allowed the equipment to run down and not be kept up and maintained in usable condition. It is his lack of leadership that demands a thorough investigation and nothing else. We need to all demand more of our tax dollars and serve Gray notice that if he doesn't call on Ellerbe to resign that we will all look toward someone else to lead this city very soon.

  4. #4

    Keith...You sir are on point but Gray will not do anything to his childhood pal...What ever happened with the cadets being Sexually Harassed?
    Harvey... the shop does nothing but change the oil and tires anything beyond that the units get sent out to real mechanics. I've seen oil changes take up to 2-3 hours to be completed.
    Drive by Half St SW and take a look at what's sitting outside then take a peek through the windows and you will see a handful of Engines & Ladder trucks sitting inside not getting worked on by the shop guys making an additional 97k in OT.
    Alan.... That lone Tower Ladder is out if service again sitting/hiding inside the shop. If you drive by Waldorf Ford you will also see a handful of Ambulances in the back parking lot.

  5. #5

    @ STAND UP ... they have been at waldorf ford for a long time too!

  6. #6

    Im sick to death of hearing all this crying from members of the fire dept who get paid a helluva lot more from DC than if they found jobs in the jurisdiction they live in! And that is the biggest problem in the fire Dept. Ellerby will NEVER be good enough as long as he continues to threaten the status quo of people living in Vermont, Ohio and West Virginia disrespecting the citizens of DC. You all think that by putting us in danger and causing deaths that we will jump on your bandwagon when all your REALLY doing is making us want you to be FIRED. So how low will you all go to get your point across that you dont like your boss? You have killed a man during your sick out. You now are putting police officers in jeprody to try and make your point. I wonder if they really want to hear your bullshit excuse that it was Ellerbys fault when they have been putting up with their OWN Boss. But get this, THEY STILL DO THEIR DARN JOB!! So you all start screaming about 4 lousy trucks that are broke as the reason more than 10 others went home early? GTFOOH! I will tell you what will have me calling for Ellerbys trrmination,.. IF HE DOESNT FIRE EVERY DARNED DRIVER WHO WENT OUT OF SERVICE EARLY TO GO HOME!

  7. #7

    The firefighters work until 0700 in the morning. It's the single role L3721 personnel, the "dedicated" EMS personnel, who get off at 1900.

    Sick, regardless of everything else, the buck stops with the Agency Head.

  8. #8

    I believe the call went out around 6:30pm so you would be referring to the civilian Medic/Emts.... They work 12hr shifts 7am-7pm

    A Firefighter Medic/Emt works a 24hr shift 7am-7am. So none of them would be going out if service to go home because they would have another 12+ hours to go before shift change..

    Also... Due to call volumeso and wait times at the hospitals standing by on the scene for Transport units to come available happens all the time.
    Sometimes units are dispatched and told that no transport units are available
    Dispatch-"Medic local engine Xxxxx respond for the person down 123the F Street SE

  9. #9

    Wait.... they are complaining about FOUR out of 39 being broken? Is that what this story is about? I hope that's not their excuse for why they didn't show up to help him. Who is investigating why the 35 that did work didnt show up?

  10. #10

    Let's try that again
    "medical local --Engine 55 respond and stand by for an ambulance ... person down
    123 South Street NE"
    That is how they put a call out when no units are available.

  11. #11

    1. Wishing for the Officer to have speedy recovery!
    2. You don't think that out of the over 600,000 people that live in the city, the visitors and people who work here that 39 people might get sick, fall or crash a car at the same time or within 30mins of each other throughout the city?

  12. #12

    Sick and Standup have it absolutely right, the majority of whiners are employees who don't live in the District,They know Ellerbe is tryng to make changes which will disrupt their status quo, they are doing the un-official slow down to make the Chief look bad. What the Chief need to do is start having his Supervisors do their job by perodically checking the dispatched records and physically check on the Ambulances when they are out of service, I am willing to bet they will find a number of them doing what they call milking the run meaning they have completed their run however remain out of service some use the excuse of santizing the Ambulance not unless they transported someone who bleeds all over the ambulance, its a time wasted excuse or They just don't return to service in a reasonable time after completing their dispatched run. The only whay to change this culture is to start putting a few folks in the un-employment line and send a few of those West Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Maryland and Virginia fire Fighters/Medic back to their juridiction and see if they can earn half the Salary they earn in DC or get away with the BS stunt they are doing to the DC Residents.

  13. #13

    This is an ongoing problem: there are a great many 911 ambulance calls, of which only about 20% are remotely urgent, and about 2% are actual emergencies. However, DC treats each one as emergent as the next, and provides emergency ambulance transportation to anyone who calls for an ambulance, regardless of severity.

    There aren't quite enough ambulances to handle the call load during the day. Multiple times per week, the city gets "bingoed" and runs out of ambulances to send. In the past, when the department had fewer vacancies, additional personnel would staff additional ambulances. The current fire chief has failed to fill vacancies, leaving the department working at "minimum manning" every day. I believe he is manufacturing a crisis to force the issue of his alternative shift, requiring firefighters to work more scheduled hours.

    Furthermore, when morale was good, engaged employees would step up their game when the city got busy. This politically-connected fire chief is not operationally experienced, personally vindictive, demonstrably retaliatory, and and has long ago lost the confidence of the rank-and-file. The members of the department do not have the tools necessary to complete their tasks: they have poorly maintained vehicles, scarce equipment, inadequate seasonal uniforms, minimalistic training, punitive corrective training, and unsupportive supervisors.

    FEMS Chief Kenneth Ellerbe is responsible for managing the Fire & EMS department. He has failed to manage EMS demand. He has failed to manage the supply of EMS units. He has failed to provide the tools the workers need to do their jobs. He has failed to manage employee engagement. He has failed. The buck stops with him.

    At this point, he is a clear and present danger to public safety. Congress should uphold their duty to manage the Federal District, and take over the management of Fire & EMS.

  14. #14

    It's obvious that some you people have no clue how the DC FEMS dispacth system works. None of the 34 units that were operational decided NOT to show up, they were NOT dispatched. Meaning they were in route to address, transporting a patient, or waiting at the ER for a bed. While that officer was lying in the street, I guarantee you that half of the untits were transporting people that didn't have a true medical emergency. 75% of the calls DCFEMS is dispatched to are NOT true emergencies. Some citizens use the EMS system as their personal taxi cab, because they're too lazy most times to drive themselves, catch a bus or pay for cab. This is an EVERYDAY occurance in DC. By 10am most mornings first rresponders are sent out because there are no transport units available. So don't blame the FF's blame the citizens that tie up with system with bogus calls.

  15. #15

    Ward 8, I have personally reviewed both the chute times (time from dispatch to enroute) and hospital drop times (time from arrival at the hospital to available for response) of EMS units. The best predictor of good performance was whether or not they were firefighters (mostly from MD) or not -- firefighters vastly outperforming the single-role personnel (mostly from DC).

    If this is a string you want to pull, be careful what you wish for. You might find out what "residency preference" for certain employees costs the citizens.

  16. #16

    The fire department referred questions about Tuesday's incident to Pedro Ribeiro, the mayor's spokesman, who says
    blah investigation blah wide-reaching blah "equipment readiness levels" blah blah blah.

    Why is FEMS unable to respond to this? Why must the Mayor's office take over message control for 4 broken down trucks? This isn't open and transparent government. It's wagon-circling.

  17. Inside looking out

    Management 101- You should be promoted to Management 201. Your points are accurate and reasonable. When the truth comes out everyone will see that this is all about mismanagement by the FEMS Administrator who is too busy promoting his own agenda

  18. Find me an honest Auditor

    It is all about Union rules..Most Council members and the Mayor who are looking for money and grass root support sell themselves to Union Rules..For every OT dollar union makes a dime..Go figure..There is so much effieciency almost every where except where Govt Union Workers are employed!! Go figure!

  19. #19

    There are Two (2) ELO’s who are to monitor the status of the EMS units, particularly while at the hospital, (one of whom is an EMS Captain), who are to not only “direct” the units to hospitals to prevent a “traffic jam” at the ER’s, but also are to monitor the drop times.

    If a unit is delayed in returning to service do to not having beds available, the ELO is responsible for contacting the ER to ascertain why there’s a delay, and if possible, intervene to speed up the process.

    Secondly, there are EMS Supervisors, (also an EMS Captain)who are supposed to monitor the EMS units and ER’s within their prospective Battalions to help speed up drop times.

    While it is commendable for that the FOP head is speaking up/expressing his concern for the well being of his members, the citizens and visitors of/to the city are equally as important. His blaming the Fire Chief for the ambulance delay was irresponsible on his part. How many times have Fire/EMS units waited on the scene for an MPD officer to show up? n fact when his “Chief” is on the news justifying “expansion of the city’s photo enforcement” program to “free up” her officers, there should be no delays , (especially if your near the IHOP on Alabama Ave. S.E.).

    “Overtime” is not the answer.

  20. #20

    The real story here is. This is the firefighters union way of voting no confidence in Fire Chief Ellerbe without publicly doing it. The EMS system was jacked up long before Ellerbe took over. The firefighters union doesn't give a damn about the EMS system in this city. This is about getting rid of Ellerbe to keep their current work schedule intact. Ellerbe wants to change the work schedule from 24/72 (24 hrs on 3 days off) to a different schedule. This protects their membership of which the majority live outside the of District of Columbia (Md suburbs, Eastern shore and Western Md, Delaware, Va, Pennsylvania, etc).
    Ask why the firefighter union President hasn't publicly said Fire Chief Ellerbe should be let go?

  21. #21

    Sam said it all for me..... BLAME THE CITIZENS! Thats what you can think and feel about the citizens when you live in bumfunk Indiana and come to DC one day a week for your 70 thoudand dollar salary and then go back home and think nothing of the person you mistreated unless they turn out to "be somebody". That is EXACTLY why you need to be fired.

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