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Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe announced today the addition of 30 new ambulances to D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services’ ailing fleet, a move he called a “turning point” in a “tumultuous time” for the department. The ambulances will all be delivered by the end of 2013, and each will run the city nearly $250,000. At a press conference at downtown’s Engine 2 firehouse, Ellerbe and Mayor Vince Gray also touted the hiring of nine paramedics and the current training of more than 60 future firefighters.
The announcements couldn’t have come soon enough for the embattled fire department, which has earned criticism for slow response times, Ellerbe’s disputes with the firefighters’ union, and antiquated equipment. Most recently, two ambulance engines caught fire and four vehicles were found to be shoddily repaired with parking signs.
Today, Gray said Ellerbe’s job is safe and that “he has confidence in the chief.”
The 30 new ambulances will replace at least some of the District vehicles that have been in use long past their due date. Ellerbe said ambulances should only be on the streets for three years, and some of the District emergency vehicles have been around since 2001.
With this new infrastructure and staff, Ellerbe says he hopes once again for the Council to approve a plan that would put more ambulances and personnel on the street during peak times. The Council rejected the idea in July.
So is all well with the D.C. Fire and EMS fleet now? Even Ellerbe couldn’t say for sure. When I asked him if there were any remaining ambulances that were repaired with street signs, he said: “There better not be…I don’t know though. Things happen.”
Photo by Perry Stein