Tuesday, February 10, 2009

DC Fire and EMS ... disaster

I caught wind of this from Eric Wemple over at the City Desk (his quick post is here), but Washingtonian has a 14-page (yea ... it is looooooooooong) article about DC Fire and EMS.  They are mainly discussing the EMS component of why DC FEMS sucks.  Props go to John Pakkanen for writing a great article - and one that is indeed quite thought-provoking.  Pakkanen makes note that during his campaign, Adrian Fenty had promised that he was going to break up DC FEMS into two separate departments - because things clearly were not working.

We all know that FEMS sucks ... you hear of long response times, horrible care - just absolute disaster.  Remember over the summer those two ambulance companies that were found to be sitting in a radio dead spot up in NW to avoid calls ... and that occurring in a city that is already short-ambulanced.  GREATTTT.  That is after the whole thing back in 2006 where a reporter for The Paper of Record, David Rosenbaum, suffered a head trauma and FEMS treated him as if he was intoxicated.  They took hours to get him to the hospital - stopping at one of the EMT's house to pick up something.  Unreal.  

It seems to me after reading this article - in which Pakkanen outlines failure, after failure - you are better off stealing a car and attempting to drive yourself to the hospital in most cases.  That is pretty sad, and quite dangerous.  Actually after reading this article I fear having to call 911.  

But the article did answer some very interesting questions for me - like why does a fire engine ALWAYS show up, even when it is just a routine medical/EMS call.  It always seemed to me like an incredible waste of resources, since the engine could not transport people - and more often than not it seemed like the firefighters were just standing around.  It would make sense if they were all trained EMTs, which I did think for a while - but this article completely debunked that theory.  While DC FEMS doesn't seem to have an official reason for doing so, fire calls have dropped by one-third in the past 20-ish years and yet budgets and staffing levels have stayed the same.  It seems that sending the engine just justifies reasons to keep staffing levels and keep up with the newest and best equipment in the fire houses.

Firefighters hate EMS personnel and vice versa ... its a bad situation.  And instead of fulfilling his campaign promise to rectify the situation and break the two departments up - he is doing exactly the opposite.  He is going along with the plan to fully integrate the two departments - basically truly making it FEMS, eliminating the separate arm of EMS.  All firefighters would be trained as first-responders, and all EMTs as firefighters.  Sounds like the worst idea ever ... clearly he has never watched Third Watch.  Firefighters and EMTs are completely different personalities; you have firefighters who are macho and love to jump into burning buildings to save people, and conversely you have EMTs are do love to save people - but aren't that keen on jumping into burning buildings.  I hate to generalize, but it seems that basically firefighters are not into it if there isn't something on fire.

I'm sure EMTs and paramedics can be jerks too ... but it seems to me from the my understanding of the situation (and everyone's accounts - including the firefighters), that firefighters think they are better than EMTs.  Hmmm ... I'm not quite sure about that.  Not to really rag on firefighters - but their jobs were made close to obsolete with a little invention called the sprinkler system.  And while we do have first-responder aids, such as AEDs, we still rely on EMTs to transport us safely in the event of a medical emergency.

Both units obviously perform very important functions, but I personally think they really need to be separate entities.  How do you feel about it?  What did you think of the article?  Did you think my portrayal of the situation is accurate, or do you feel that the services should remain under one umbrella?

I've babbled on enough - here is the actual article.

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