Make this page my home page
  1. Drag the home icon in this panel and drop it onto the "house icon" in the tool bar for the browser

  2. Select "Yes" from the popup window and you're done!

Home > Topics > EMS Management
All Articles

EMS News in Focus
by Arthur Hsieh

When will the bad news from DCFEMS stop?

The hits just keep on coming, as the embattled department sees failure after failure

By Arthur Hsieh

Surprise, surprise. The department that serves our nation’s capital is once again making news that no one wants to hear. I’ve thought about the incident where responders stood by as a man suffered a fatal heart attack across from a fire house numerous times since it broke last week. Is there any situation where I would not step out of my station to investigate a call for medical aid? I suppose I wouldn’t go if there were bullets flying, or a massive explosion, or thousands of killer bees were swarming. Scene safety, after all.

But this wasn’t that. It happens all the time across this country — someone rings the bell, worried and stressed about a medical emergency. And, like clockwork, we investigate the issue, call communications, get additional assistance — we do something. We are conditioned to help.

So when DCFEMS closes the station door and allows a unit to respond from a distance, even in my most altruistic, half-glass-full, hoping-against-hope mindset, I just shake my head. I just don’t get it.

Wait, I got it: The department simply is not in the business of public safety. It’s a club. It’s a soap opera. It’s anything but a community organization whose mission is to protect the citizenry from harm. To say that’s unfortunate would be the understatement of the decade.

To be fair, I’m certain there are some really great individuals working within DCFEMS who are good people. Heck, I’ll even go out on a limb to say many are. But it does no good when those who don’t care about what they do ruin it for the rest of them. It takes but a few disasters to wipe out thousands of instances where things go right. And DCFEMS has a rich reserve of unmitigated disasters.

Ironically, discipline alone isn’t going to resolve this problem. It’s not just a couple individuals making a mess of things. The department has a deep, systemic dysfunction of being unaccountable to those they serve. It comes from the top, and seeps through the ranks like dirty water from a room and contents fire, running through the rest of a building.

I don’t mean to be mean-spirited — I really want DCFEMS to succeed in its mission. People who live, work and visit in the District deserve great care and prompt response from its public servants. Is that too much to ask?


About the author

EMS1 Editorial Advisor Art Hsieh, MA, NREMT-P currently teaches at the Public Safety Training Center, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Program. Since 1982, Art has worked as a line medic and chief officer in the private, third service and fire-based EMS. He has directed both primary and EMS continuing education programs. Art is a textbook author, has presented at conferences nationwide, and continues to provide patient care at an EMS service in Northern California. Contact Art at
The comments below are member-generated and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of or its staff. If you cannot see comments, try disabling privacy and ad blocking plugins in your browser. All comments must comply with our Member Commenting Policy.
Michael Charles Michael Charles Tuesday, February 04, 2014 3:17:27 PM Yes Art, a club. It's called "The What's the Least Work I Have to Do Get the Maximum Off-Time, the Maximum Benefits and to Protect My Retirement Pay Club."
J.t. Cantrell J.t. Cantrell Wednesday, February 05, 2014 5:49:13 AM It is hard to grasp but DC isn't the only place it happens. Specialization of function interferes with service in many ways. A PD unit assigned to criminal calls might totally ignore a traffic violation or fail to stop at an accident. The mindset of "that's not my job" kicks in. Personnel assigned tasks that their supervisors don't agree with or believe in will also prevent service delivery. A police office trained as an EMT may get a growl from his/her sergeant for taking care of a patient instead of doing "police work". EMS transfer units may be told not to run in on a call that they may be literally on top of . It happens everywhere and I fear it will get worse as we do more with less.
Dan White Dan White Wednesday, February 05, 2014 8:51:07 AM It has been like watching a train wreck in slow motion. Appears to be a system full of burn-outs.

EMS1 Offers

Sponsored by

We Recommend...

Connect with EMS1

Mobile Apps Facebook Twitter Google+

Get the #1 EMS eNewsletter

Fire Newsletter Sign up for our FREE email roundup of the top news, tips, columns, videos and more, sent 3 times weekly
Enter Email
See Sample

Online Campus Both

EMS Management Videos