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Verizon Center Terminates Contract with D.C. Fire and EMS Department

Officials at the Verizon Center have terminated a long-running contract agreement with the D.C. Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services for ambulance coverage during events at the sports and entertainment venue.

Under the contract - which netted the city approximately $250,000 annually - the fire department provided one ambulance and crew at each event at the arena, department spokesman Tim Wilson said. The agreement ended Oct. 1.

The ending of the agreement comes after the fire department was unable to follow through on its commitments because of a crippling wave of ambulance breakdowns, forcing the agency to outsource emergency medical services coverage to a private ambulance company. Verizon officials say recent stumbles were not the reason the contract was scrapped, but the severance ends a 16-year agreement that began when the Verizon Center opened as the MCI Center in 1997.

"We had reached the end of an agreement for first aid services with our current providers and reviewed all of our options throughout the summer," David Touhey, general manager of the Verizon Center, said through a spokeswoman. "We received several proposals and ultimately decided to enter into an agreement with a company that could provide us comprehensive coverage for our first aid room services as well as ambulance service."

The D.C. fire department had not provided personnel for first aid rooms inside the building; the Verizon Center contracted with another company for those services.

Verizon Center spokeswoman Sheila Francis declined to name the company that is now providing ambulance and first aid coverage.

The fire department outsourced its ambulance staffing at both the Verizon Center and Nationals Park to private ambulance companies after the department's ambulance fleet was decimated during a July heat wave. The air conditioning units in the ambulances failed when the temperatures soared, and 67 of the department's 94 ambulances had to be pulled from the streets for repairs during a week's time. While most units were returned to service within a number of hours, several of the ambulances were fixed using questionable repair tactics - such as street signs jammed into engine compartments as makeshift heat shields.

From July 22 to Sept. 12, the department outsourced ambulance coverage - four ambulances at every baseball game and one ambulance at each Verizon Center event - so first responders could keep up with regular call volumes, according to a department spokesman. It cost the department an estimated $111,400 - or approximately half the cost of a new ambulance - to pay private ambulance companies to fill in the gaps, according to figures provided by Mr. Wilson.

The department paid $4,100 to Lifestar Ambulance Service for coverage of each home Nationals game and $900 per event at the Verizon Center to American Medical Response, Mr. Wilson said. Officials were unable to provide estimates on the amount spent on outsourcing but agreed with figures projected by The Washington Times based on the number of home baseball games listed on the Nationals schedule and events listed on the Verizon Center's website.

The outsourcing ceased as the department received the first of 30 new ambulances.

"Things only started coming back into balance when the new ambulances started to arrive, and thankfully we got a break from the heat," said Keith St. Clair, spokesman for the deputy mayor for public safety.

The new ambulances, which are scheduled to arrive by the end of the year, cost a total of $6.6 million.



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