After response issues, DC Fire and EMS adds 10 more ambulances

D.C.'s mayor is making changes following our exclusive reports on delayed Fire and EMS response.

We brought you the stories first on several high-profile incidents where ambulances were needed, but none were available.

The department has added ten ambulances, which District officials now say has had a major impact.

According to the mayor's office, in the last two weeks, ambulances have been available in the city every single time one has been requested.

It is a dramatic change from just last month when in a single week, dispatchers were told 170 times that every single ambulance in the city was tied up on a run.

Mayor Muriel Bowser had only been in office for a few weeks when a number of high-profile emergencies revealed the stress being put on the EMS care in the city.

An injured D.C. police officer waited more than 30 minutes for an ambulance that never came while help for a toddler choking on some grapes was just two blocks away, but never sent.

Within days, changes were in place.

"We needed to get more ambulances on the street just looking at the call volume coming in, especially during the 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. shift where we see the most volume," said Deputy City Administrator Kevin Donahue. "Second, we wanted to make sure the tablets, the computer equipment on the vehicles were always connecting to the dispatch system so when there is a close ambulance or fire truck, that apparatus got dispatched immediately."

The tablets the deputy city administrator is talking about were installed last year and have proven to be a major problem.

They use Wi-Fi and 4G to communicate with the 911 center and sometimes lose their connection. When that happens, dispatchers lose track via GPS of where they are.

"We've been working hard over three weeks and it's a lot of different fixes," said Donahue. "We've installed a software patch."

They have addressed power issues as well.

When calls to 911 on March 13 said a toddler was choking, dispatchers didn't know a paramedic was on an engine just two blocks away. Instead, help was sent from more than a mile away.

Although the reasons for why that happened are still under investigation, Donahue said login changes have been made as well.

"It's essentially going to a one-touch login, so it's much easier and more intuitive for a paramedic who may have changed units from a fire truck to an ambulance to be able to indicate that a paramedic is on the unit with paramedic equipment," he said.

The ten additional ambulances now on the street are being staffed by firefighter-EMTs working overtime.

Last Friday, Mayor Bowser announced a new initiative to recruit dozens of new firefighter-EMTs to fill more than a hundred vacant positions. This is something that hasn't been done in 2008.

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