The chairman of the D.C. City Council's Judiciary Committee says he has "grave concerns" over the staffing of the D.C. Fire Department. And Friday questioned its ability to provide quality emergency medical care in the city.
Tommy Wells made those statements during a hearing in which the fire chief testified about his plan to redeploy ambulances during peak hours of the day.
D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe today told the city council he has "more often than not" a surplus of ambulances in the middle of the night and he wants to move them to what’s being called a power shift where they will be available to respond to a high number of calls.
But the Firefighters Union is against the plan and the chief admitted it requires a change in shifts.
Ellerbe does not have the authority to redeploy his EMS resources without the approval of the D.C. city Council.
So Friday, he tried to convince the head of the judiciary committee it could be done and needs to be done.
The unions generally agree, because of a changing city and an increased population, there is a need for additional ambulances during peak times of the day but not at the cost of leaving the middle of the night uncovered.
Under the chief's plan no advanced life support units would work from 1 am to 7 am and the firefighter paramedics would have to move to 12 hour shifts. A move that's very unpopular.
The chief admitted he has far exceeded his overtime budget and told the council in order to have enough paramedics to handle a shift change the union would have to agree to the plan.
Thursday night we reported the fire department has lost 53 paramedics since the chief took office and none have been replaced.
One other note, we have asked repeatedly over the last several months for a sit down interview with Chief Ellerbe. He has declined every time. So Friday was our only chance to ask him questions in public.
But instead of stopping for reporters’ questions the chief headed right for the elevator.
His handlers tried to bar us from getting in the elevator but after repeatedly asking to speak with the chief
He did come out of the elevator to take some questions. It was an acrimonious encounter to say the least.
When asked if the reason he was not hiring paramedics is that he is hoping the three shifts finally goes through Ellerbe answered, “Well, we are hopeful the three shifts goes through and hope it goes through by the end of the summer...see what happens."
The union says paramedics are being forced to work overtime nearly every day because the department does not have the staffing.