DC fire chief: More ambulances to be available during pope's visit

- For weeks now, the D.C. Fire and EMS department has struggled to handle an ongoing ambulance crisis. As we have reported, there are not enough to handle all of the calls for service -- sometimes more than 600 a day.

With the pope coming to town next week, that number is sure to grow. However, D.C. Fire and EMS Chief Gregory said they will have more ambulances ready to go during Pope Francis’ visit.

A little over a week ago, city officials admitted the fire department had been unable to meet the mayor’s promise of having 49 ambulances on the street and in service during peak hours.

It is a fact that emerged after two children were rushed to hospitals on fire engines when ambulances weren't immediately available.

The rigs were breaking down in the summer heat while going on run after run nearly 24 hours a day.

The fire chief admits it is a problem that needs an urgent solution.

"I think the mayor was right on the mark in saying that we have everything on the table,” said Chief Dean. “We have been working here within the department with our managers looking at ways to be able to address that. We have been working collaboratively with the mayor’s office. We have been talking to the council as to what is going to be the right way to do that.”

The fire chief said on that table is the possibility of leasing ambulances, using private ambulances and even mutual aid from outside the city.

Dean said getting the rigs fixed and back on the road has been a problem for a couple of reasons.

"Two parts from my perspective -- one is that we haven't actually been able to fill all of the positions,” he said. “We are filling them as we go. We have a couple of key positions that still need to be filled.

"And additionally, it’s just the fact of not having a reserve fleet -- that these rigs are on the road and being able to get them in so that we can do this type of work. So some of the steps we’ve taken as we get ready for the papal visit actually will assist us in having that reserve fleet, so we can get these rigs off the streets so we can do the maintenance on them.”

Chief Dean said 14 additional ambulances will be in town next week for the pope’s visit. And by December, the fire department will have 30 more -- 14 of them brand new.

The chief did not appear overly concerned about handling calls during Pope Francis’ visit. He said they are preparing like this is an inauguration, Fourth of July or any other major event in the city.

Additional firefighters have been asked to come in to work on overtime duty and there will be mutual aid coming into the city.

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