DC’s Department of Fire & Emergency Medical Services (FEMS) has been criticized for slow response times. But in August, Chief Kenneth Ellerbe announced that his organization hired 20 new paramedics and will have 30 new ambulances by the end of the year.
Of those 30 ambulances, the first six will be refurbished to allow for quicker delivery. The following ambulances will all be new, and the department will first receive seven and then the final 17.
Hiring of paramedics is critical to FEMS since 80% of their work is medical emergencies. But it has been difficult for two reasons. Firstly, there is a shortage of paramedics across the country. And secondly, until April of this year, DC law prevented hiring those who were not also firefighters.
But when conducting interviews, the department found that some medical personnel have no interest in fighting fires. Since the DC code changed, FEMS can now hire those paramedics.
Training is another issue preventing more paramedics in DC. There are currently no facilities in the city to train paramedics. But FEMS hopes that a program will start at UDC Community College soon. However, there is a Department of Employment Services (DOES) program that trains DC citizens to be emergency medical technicians (EMT) and prepares graduates for the National Registry EMT Certification Exam and later employment with FEMS.
The Chief has proposed changing employee shifts to a three-three-three schedule with 12-hour shifts, which would allow 66% of the workforce to be on duty each day. This would change the average workweek from 42 hours to 56 hours. Currently, employees work a 24-hour shift and are off for 72 hours.
The District Fire & EMS Department responds to over 150,000 calls a year. According to Chief Ellerbe, “Our response times are improving, and our arrival on the scene with critical care has improved.” Hopefully, the changes continue to increase health and safety in DC.