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Citizens of the District of Columbia: There is nothing wrong with your fire department’s ability to provide ambulances to take the sick or injured to the hospital. Or at least that was the message top fire officials and Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Paul Quander were selling at a news conference today.

The conference came after a rough three days for the department that began Tuesday, when the city couldn’t find one of its own ambulances to transport a seriously injured police officer to the hospital and instead had to ask Prince George’s County to send an ambulance. Then, yesterday, firefighters had to transport a man suffering from a stroke to the hospital in a fire truck because the nearest ambulance was seven miles away, in rush-hour traffic.

Fire officials tried to put a positive spin on both events. The fire department’s medical director, Dr. David Miramontes, said the fact that a Prince George’s county ambulance was deployed to the District when no District ambulances were available shows that the city’s “mutual aid” agreements with surrounding jurisdictions are functioning.

“Tuesday, the system worked,” he said.

And Quander praised the firefighters involved in yesterday’s incident for taking matters into their own hands and not waiting around for a faraway ambulance.

As for why the city’s having a difficult time getting its own ambulances to people who need them, Quander says he’s investigating why 10 of the 39 ambulances that were supposed to be on duty were offline during Tuesday’s incident. Quander said his investigation will be widespread and will spare no one who might be at fault, from top management on down.

“Everyone will be held accountable,” Quander said.

A few minutes later he then voiced public support for Fire Chief Ken Ellerbe. “Our citizens are well served by the men and women of this department and by this chief.”

The firefighters union says four of the out-of-service ambulances Tuesday were offline for mechanical reasons, and that the department has a long history of not being able to get its equipment working properly. Officials said that starting yesterday, the department will now have two fully stocked ambulances on standby at the department’s repair shop ready to replace any broken on-duty ambulance that comes in for repairs.

Quander says the department had been working on its standby plan for months and its implementation “just happens  to coincide” with Tuesday’s incident. Asked whether he thought that was an amazing coincidence, Quander said: “I asked the question. I asked the exact same question. What I was told was that they have been working on this, they have put it into place. It’s operational, and it’s available today.”

Sounds like someone has just the right amount of healthy skepticism needed for a thorough investigation.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery