D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells is calling for immediate action in the D.C. Fire Department after a sick out on New Year's Eve left nearly a dozen ambulances unstaffed and supervisors scrambling for help.
A 71-year-old man at a house on 44th Place in Southeast D.C. waited 40 minutes for an ambulance. The Air Force veteran later died of a heart attack.
On Lang Place in Northeast, a stabbing victim had to be transported to the hospital in a fire truck.
Ward 6 Councilmember Wells has oversight for Judiciary and Public Safety in the District. He is very concerned about what happened and tells FOX 5 he met with the deputy mayor, fire chief and the head of the firefighter's union on Friday to try to get to the bottom of what happened.
"Our firefighters are paid to do a job and there's just no acceptable excuse about how this happens," says Wells.
11 ambulances went unstaffed, forcing supervisors to ask for help from Prince George's County.
Councilmember Wells says union officials deny it was a coordinated sick out.
"This was a choice made by some employees and it was definitely not sanctioned by union," Wells says. "I've been assured of that by the head of the union this is something the firefighters chose to do on their own and it's absolutely unacceptable."
Union officials have said the trouble could have been avoided if the department had staffed up as it did in recent years.
It's no secret that cost-cutting measures and low moral have been issues between the firefighter's union and Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe.
Wells says a sick out is not the way to make a point. He says action, including perhaps disciplinary measures, must be taken now to send a clear message.
"I expect that this will not happen again, and if does, I know we're in contract negotiations around the services for our employees," he says. "I understand also that if you want to want to work for city government, especially in emergency services, you have to show the kind of commitment that we expect as an employer, as a city and as residents of this great city."
Wells says he expects to hear what action both the mayor and fire chief will take sometime next week.
In response to reports of a large number of the District's firefighters taking sick leave on New Year's Eve and leaving the District's fire and emergency services short-staffed, Councilmember Tommy Wells, Chair of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety issued the following statement:
"I was very disturbed to learn of the low levels of staffing of firefighters on New Year's Eve. This put the safety of District residents in jeopardy. Today, I have spoken with Mayor Gray, FEMS Chief Ellerbe and Ed Smith, President of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 36. I told each of them that this is an issue that must be resolved and never repeated. Whatever personnel and management issues may exist, the safety of the residents of the District of Columbia are non-negotiable."