DC Fire and EMS leaders testify about recent allegations at council oversight hearing

- In recent weeks, FOX 5 has been reporting on the disturbing allegations against the D.C. Fire and EMS Department. We have told you about firefighters being sent to the wrong address, firefighters who misdiagnosed a patient and didn't know he had been shot, and we also told you about a stabbing victim who waited 18 minutes for an ambulance and later died.

Days after those stories aired, Dr. Jullette Saussy, the medical director for D.C. Fire and EMS, resigned from her post. In an explosive resignation letter she sent to Mayor Muriel Bowser, she said, “People are dying needlessly because we are moving too slow.”

On Wednesday, Saussy went before the city council to answer questions about her letter and the claim she made that there was no urgency for reform.

At the hearing, Dr. Saussy threw another head-spinning allegation into the mix by saying there seems to be an immunity to grief within the fire department. She also said simple fixes were met with resistance.

“You have had much talent walk through these doors and walk out of these doors, so I don’t think that one particular one magic human is going to come in and fix this,” she said at the hearing. “I think it is going to take leadership from the top down and an unflinching commitment to change, which is very difficult. The simple fixes, just knowing where you’re medics lie skill-wise, baseline assessment – how can you improve something you can’t measure?”

Saussy told members of the council that there was no urgency within the department to make the changes necessary for top EMS care in the city.

She said a proposal to assess the quality of EMTs and paramedics with a nationally recognized tool was met with resistance and she was told it would cause undue stress.

The doctor told the three council members who showed up at the hearing that she tried to discipline some members for the way they carried out EMS care and was told it couldn't be done because she didn't follow procedure and go through a battalion chief.

Dr. Saussy also told the council there was too much focus on response times rather than patient outcomes and the management of the department was heavily overloaded on the side of fire suppression rather than EMS care.

She said the department has been ceded in cultural issues and rather than change the response, the message she received was this is always the way we have done it.

Following her testimony, D.C. Fire and EMS Chief Gregory Dean responded to Saussy’s complaints by defending what he has been doing and there is an urgency within the fire department to make changes, but that it will take time.

Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) released the following statement on the status of D.C. Fire and EMS at the Committee on Judiciary performance oversight hearing:

“Today’s hearing focused on emergency medical services (EMS) delivery. I was deeply troubled by the allegations detailed in Dr. Jullette Saussy’s resignation letter. Seven months ago, Dr. Saussey was hired in an effort to reform the system that has been plagued for years. The four page letter outlines a number of claims that, if true are unacceptable. Among the more disturbing allegations expressed in the letter is Dr. Saussy’s claim that “People are dying needlessly because we are moving too slow and that there is a lack of accountability at all levels within the Department.”

The Committee on Judiciary is tasked with providing rigorous oversight for the Department.  There is zero margin for error when it comes to the work of the Department. Moreover, EMS training must be a priority aggressively pursued by the Department now and in the future.

I will continue rigorous oversight of policy reforms within the Department. We must ensure that District residents and visitors have the highest quality of emergency medical services and that the public’s confidence in the Department is restored. This is a matter of life and death.”

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