Fire chief, mayor say turning around DC Fire and EMS will take time

The medical director of the D.C. Fire and EMS Department unleashed her concerns in a resignation letter to Mayor Muriel Bowser this week. Dr. Jullette Saussy called the department highly toxic and said the response to emergencies was so slow that people are dying.

Both the fire chief and mayor said it is no secret the department is still on the road to recovery, blaming years of poor leadership and poor training.

Saussy was hired just seven month ago, but is now quitting as she said her concerns fell on deaf ears.

We spoke with her former boss, D.C. Fire and EMS Chief Gregory Dean, about the issues raised in her resignation letter.

"People are dying needlessly because we are moving too slow," Saussy wrote in the letter. "Every time we send scarce resources to low level calls, we deplete our resources and prolong response times to true emergencies."

"I would agree that we are working very hard to deal with a system that we have here," said Chief Dean. "Dr. Saussy was here for seven months."

But we asked him if the system is broken.

"We said all along that the system needs to be turned around," Dean responded.

Saussy even brought up a stabbing incident last week in Southeast D.C. She referred to a man who died after waiting 18 minutes for a transport suffering from a survivable injury.

"The transport vehicle took 18 minutes," said Dean. "We had people on the scene in the first six minutes and they were working on the patient. But again, we have acknowleged from the beginning that we don't have available ambulances."

We asked Mayor Bowser how long it would take before residents can feel more comfortable that there will not be problems with Fire and EMS services in the city.

"This is what I can say - we are outlining a system of reform," said Bowser.

We are told that reform will start in four to six weeks when a private ambulance fleet is engaged to help with the call volume. With that assistance comes more training time for those emergency responders currently answering calls.

"We need to give them more time for training," said Bowser. "For too long, what we have found is that instead of monthly training, people were getting once a year or twice a year training and we don't think that is adequate."

However, Mayor Bowser said reform will not change overnight and will take time.