WASHINGTON (NBC Washington) - D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe touted a recent hiring of new paramedics during a hearing Wednesday, but was unable to say where a dozen new ambulances are, or if they're even in service.
Council member and mayoral candidate Tommy Wells conducted the hearing, and pressed Ellerbe on personnel and fleet issues that have recently plagued the department.
STATter911: DC fire chief grilled about apparatus & EMS staffing. Can’t account for no new apparatus in 2013 budget or say where new ambulances are deployed.
Ellerbe told the council he's been hiring paramedics who are only certified to work on ambulances as a "stopgap measure.'' Firefighters' union leaders say more than 50 paramedics have left the department over the past 3 years.
Union leaders also say that even with the new hires, more than one-third of the city's ambulances are being downgraded because not enough paramedics are available. They say that stresses the entire system and results in paramedics being held over for 36-hour shifts.
Ellerbe was asked why he didn't budget any money in 2013 for new ambulances despite the fact he knew the fleet was in disrepair.
"I'll have to get back to you with an answer," Ellerbe said.
Despite not being included in the original budget, Ellerbe swiftly unveiled 13 new ambulances and promised an additional 17 by the end of the year.
When asked where the 13 new ambulances are, Ellerbe and his staff said one of them is stationed at the White House. After mulling over documents and repeated questioning from Wells regarding the locations and service of the other 12.
"I couldn't tell you right now, I couldn't pull it out of my pocket," Ellerbe's fleet director said.
Ellerbe also testified the department currently has 100 amblances -- but not all of them are working.
"Of those, 89 are considered active, including frontline, and 11 are considered out of service for more than two months," Ellerbe said.
Ellerbe was unable to answer how many of the department's 53 fire or pumper trucks have been certified. A certification doesn't mean the trucks can't be used, but they may not be safe.
Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington