WASHINGTON - Waiting for an ambulance in the District has become a well-documented problem in recent months. As the city grows, calls for service have increased and the fire department is struggling to keep up with the demand.
On Jan. 27, police say Sean Baker stabbed Robert Wiggins in the chest on the fourth floor of an apartment building on 37th Street in Southeast D.C.
The 911 center immediately sent an engine and a truck, but there were no ambulances in the immediate area. The officer in charge asks for extra help to come to the scene.
“Truck 17 to communications – send me a supervisor since the patient is not breathing now,” the first responder told dispatch.
As first responders are performing CPR, an official gets on the radio and wants to know where the ambulance is.
First responder: “Engine 18 to communications.”
Dispatch: “Come in Engine 18.”
First responder: “Where is Ambulance 23 coming from?”
Dispatch: “Communications to Ambulance 2-3. Ambulance 2-3? Communications to Ambulance 23?”
Officials on the scene have already said the man is in cardiac arrest and there is now an urgency to get him to the hospital. An officer picks up the radio and this time calls the ambulance directly.
First Responder: “Engine 18 to Ambulance 23 – What’s your location at the moment?”
Ambulance: “Southwest-Southeast Freeway.”
First Responder: “Okay Ambulance 23. Engine 18 to communications – Can you reassign him?
Dispatch: “Sir, we are in alpha hold.”
First Responder: “Copy that. Just considering we have CPR in progress.”
“Alpha hold” means there are no other ambulances to send and the first responders will have to wait for Ambulance 23, which is still miles away.
At least 20 minutes after the first call for help, Ambulance 23 calls the hospital to say they are on the way.
Early last year, after the ambulance shortage was well documented, the mayor’s office decided to add ten additional ambulances to run calls from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
The effort worked at times, but according to the mayor’s office, the fire department was not always able to put the ten additional ambulances on the street.
Keep in mind, the man who was stabbed needed help at just after 10 a.m.
A new plan to handle the demand involves using private ambulances, but so far, that plan has not been put into place.