WASHINGTON - Paramedics, the most elite medical responders in the city’s fire department, are leaving the District’s Fire and EMS agency at such high rate due to overwork and stress that the department is now facing a critical shortage, multiple department sources told FOX 5 News.
Call volume in the city has been rising over the past three years as a result of increased population, but the department’s emergency medical system, especially its staffing of paramedic units, has fallen short, FOX 5 has learned.
Several years ago, the city shelled out $7,000 in bonuses to recruit paramedics, but many of them have already left for other jurisdictions like Montgomery County, Md. and Annapolis, according to the firefighters union. Moreover, there hasn’t been a paramedic class or hiring effort since to replace those that have left, the union says.
Even more serious, FOX 5 has learned the department has been forced to hold over some paramedics who have already worked a 24-hour shift for as many as 12 more hours, just to keep some units on the street, leading to fatigue and low morale.
“Somebody’s going to die or get hurt from this and I don’t want a part of it anymore,” one veteran D.C. firefighter/paramedic told FOX 5.
Still, in a follow-up interview at the chief’s request the day our story was to air, Chief Ellerbe declined to answer questions on the safety of the system, referring questions about whether a 36-hour shift for a paramedic puts patients at risk to his medical director, David Miramontes.
“I can tell you we provide really good patient care,” Miramontes told FOX 5.
To reduce the fatigue on paramedics and EMTs, the city has come up with a new deployment plan for its ambulances called “power shifts” where more units will be on duty during the daytime, when the call volume is highest, and be reduced at night when there are far fewer calls.
“That will allow us to put from 25 to 45 units on the street, particularly during our heaviest call volume hours,” Ellerbe said.
Still, union chief Ed Smith has his concerns, saying the plan actually leaves the District without a dedicated paramedic-staffed ambulance from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m. The power shift was to go into effect this month, but FOX 5 has learned it has been delayed, at least until next year.
Sounds like more cutting material off of one of the the blanket, sewing it on the other end, and declaring the blanket longer. Maybe they’ll try System Status Management next!
Maybe they should try more pay, better benefits, better equipment (remember those non air conditioned ambulances), more staffing to lighten the work load, and other things like that. Maybe they should, as should many other fire departments, recognize the fact that they are an EMS system that also fights fires instead of the other way around.
Nah, that will never happen and we’ll continue to read stories like this from DC, Detroit, and other cities for years to come.
At least it will give me something to blog about.