DC to contract with private ambulance company for low priority calls

District officials have a plan to ease the ambulance crisis in the city. Instead of sending city-owned ambulances to every single call, they will begin sending private ambulances on low priority emergencies.

D.C. Fire Chief Gregory Dean will meet with the D.C. City Council Tuesday morning at the Wilson Building to lay out specifics of the plan, which includes contracting with a private vendor for as many as 20 ambulances that would be on call 24 hours a day. Mayor Muriel Bowser hopes to have the plan approved through emergency legislation, FOX 5's Paul Wagner has learned.

"If the council agrees, we will do a performance base where we ask to have an ambulance at a certain location within a certain number of minutes throughout the District," said Chief Dean.

The fire chief says the goal is to relieve stress on the system, freeing up ambulances for badly needed maintenance and firefighters for training. Although private ambulances would respond to the low priority emergencies, fire personnel would be sent as well.

The proposal would also eliminate long waits at hospital emergency rooms for some of the city's ambulances. In recent months, the fire department has had to rely on mutual aid to take emergency calls that have soared in the city to as many as 600 a day.

In Seattle, where Chief Dean used to work, private ambulances have been used to supplement city-owned ambulances for as long as 40 years.

"On the surface, it makes sense. We believe it to be a short-term fix. We would like to see our staffing levels and our units increased to be able to cover those calls in the future, but given the crisis we are in right now, it absolutely makes sense," said D.C. Fire Union President Ed Smith.

D.C. Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie wasn't so sure. He wants to hear the proposal before making up his mind.

"I want to see the details of the proposal. I'm sure my colleagues would like to see it as well," said McDuffie. "At the end of the day, what I think that we want to make sure that happens is that residents of the District of Columbia and every visitor to the nation's capital has the highest quality emergency medical services as possible," said McDuffie.

The fire chief says the initial plan calls for a one-year contract with the cost still to be determined.