Fewer ambulances will be on the streets overnight, under a new plan being proposed by DC's Fire and EMS. As a FOX5 investigation into a paramedic shortage first reported, the plan calls to shift resources from overnight to peak daytime shifts. But that solution has some people worried even more because it takes paramedic units away at night.
Under the proposal announced by Fire and EMS Chief Kenneth Ellerbe, between 1am and 7am, DC will have no medic units working, which carry the most advanced life saving equipment and have a paramedic capable of performing lifesaving medical procedures. Basic ambulance units which would still be available don't have that. "Our data shows we have very limited call volume from 1am to 7am in particular to ALS [Advanced Life Support] response," said Ellerbe.
Those calls overnight even though small are people's lives. But with scarce resources, the department believes it's better to shift the 14-medic units to busier periods during the day, a so called "power shift." In our fox five investigation: the union which represents firefighter paramedics warned it could endanger lives. "We have huge concerns over that 1am to 7am block that there will not be any paramedic transport units. It's a 36% decrease in our capability to transport patients to the hospital," said Ed Smith, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters local #36.
During those hours the department argues each medic and ambulance unit handles about two calls, which would go up only slightly if the medic units are pulled off overnights. The city has 21-paramedic engine companies that can respond with firefighters who are trained as paramedics but those engines can't transport patients. For that they'll have to wait for one of the city's basic ambulance units. They would have to be vetted by the DC Council. Monday, in a pre-emptive move the chief appeared on FOX5 News at 10 to justify his decision. "I don't think that we're putting the public at risk at all. Matter of fact I think we're going to be able to respond better during the day because we'll have more units on the street," Ellerbe explained. He had declined to address the subject in a follow up interview last week.
Fire department sources say the real problem is manpower short by up to a hundred paramedics. One paramedic who spoke to fox five under anonymity worried what might happen. "Somebody's gonna die or get hurt from this and I don't want a part of it anymore," the person said.
The two unions, one which represents firefighters and the other civilian paramedics are at odds over the plan. The paramedics union, whose members staff the medic units, believes it's the best use of limited resources. The firefighters union which represents firefighter-paramedics believes it puts lives at risk.
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