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Home > Topics > Safety

DC man dies while waiting for ambulance

The man died while more than 100 firefighters called in sick on New Year's Eve

By EMS1 Staff

Editor's note: Check out Art Hsieh's take on this story in, "A New' Year's Eve to forget in DC."

WASHINGTON — A D.C. man died while waiting for an ambulance amidst a city-wide staff shortage when more than 100 firefighters called in sick on New Year's Eve.

At least 11 ambulances were unmanned and supervisors had to ask for help from Prince George's County as a result of all the sick calls, according to My Fox DC.

A man in cardiac arrest died after he waited for an ambulance for 40 minutes. A stabbing victim had to be transported in a fire truck because no ambulances were readily available.

Internal D.C. Fire Department documents say crews were on the go nonstop trying to keep up with the constant calls.

In an attempt to replace the lost manpower, Chief Kenneth Ellerbe asked officials to lift a cap that prevents crews form working overtime. While the cap was lifted, only two out of 50 firefighters decided to keep working over the capped time.

Chief Ellerbe told the TV station that the large number of sick calls could be due to firefighters taking advantage of their minor illness program, allowing them to call out sick three times a year without going to a clinic.

The head of the firefighters union, Ed Smith, says that the large amount of callouts was not a coordinated effort against the department, despite prior disputes.

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.
James Alexander James Alexander Thursday, January 03, 2013 11:39:42 AM Depending on what DC's Policy and Procedures are, I honestly think this opens the door for a huge liability issue to come! Not good at all!
Anita Grey Nikiel Anita Grey Nikiel Thursday, January 03, 2013 11:40:39 AM it does not make it better- but if he were already in cardiac arrest- his outcome probably would not have been much different. I think instead of focusing on the code- let's focus on the chest pains, abd pains and other issues that this affected even more.
Joanne Di Tomasso Joanne Di Tomasso Thursday, January 03, 2013 11:50:54 AM Wow, that's something that would be unthinkable in Montreal. There would be some serious trouble for those who called in sick and they would of had to pray they had one heck of a doctor to help justify the absence. Are they employing these tactics because of work relations or contract negotiation? You can't say if the person in cardiac arrest would of survived or not, but how many may of lost their lives or have had it severly modified because of late response times, ie. polytrauma patients, severe chest or abd pain or stroke. I am not familiar with your legislation but I am thinking that there will be some huge liability issues in the very near future.
Sandy Bjork Sandy Bjork Thursday, January 03, 2013 11:56:10 AM Anita, that is a really horrible attitude to have.
Jaime Lynn Harris Jaime Lynn Harris Thursday, January 03, 2013 12:57:58 PM I think it is extremely sad that all those firefighters called in sick on the night when all EMT/Firefighters are needed the most.
Anita Grey Nikiel Anita Grey Nikiel Thursday, January 03, 2013 1:27:25 PM Sandy- I am not being horrible. But this is a common thread when one reads through things like this. Think triage- I am thinking that there were more people that were chest pains that were affected by this more. I believe that no matter had there been an ambulance in the area- think of the timing. LIfe is important. It is sad to see people pass- but I am concerned about the fact that no only was this person a victim of the "sick out", but the people that may have been having heart attacks, diabetic emergencies, sick babies etc are the ones that are more at risk with this "sick out". I am trying to be realistic- I am one of those that reads articles that state that the person died of cardiac arrest- as dah- in the end - we all die of cardiac arrest. I am thinking the whole picture. if this guy was a code to start out with- I highly doubt that the sick out caused his death.
D Steven Mooch D Steven Mooch Thursday, January 03, 2013 1:56:58 PM that's irritating...I would've stayed and said in screw vacation these holidays...that's horrible.
Megan Collins Megan Collins Thursday, January 03, 2013 3:52:31 PM Wow that's messed up!
Mike Summers Mike Summers Thursday, January 03, 2013 4:07:15 PM And I'm sure the media didn't blow this out of proportion at all...
Stephen Johnson Stephen Johnson Thursday, January 03, 2013 4:13:15 PM And how does the media blow out of proportion 100 sick call outs, 11 ambulances out of serive and resultant 40 minute response for a cardiac arrest. As a paramedic for 17 years I would be nauseated if this happened at any of the services where I work.
Timothy Richard Joyce Timothy Richard Joyce Thursday, January 03, 2013 5:27:55 PM Looks like DCFD is taking their cues from congress.
Melanie Owen Melanie Owen Thursday, January 03, 2013 5:48:56 PM I am betting although New Years Eve is a holiday the reason they called in is it is the last day of the year that they can use the minor sick day without a doctor. Maybe they should change the policy to read without a doctors visit unless it is on holidays and list those holidays. That would probably change the calling in sick problem on holidays.
Jack Stevens Jack Stevens Thursday, January 03, 2013 6:57:28 PM That is usually one of out slowest nights. People don't get too stupid when they know every cop available is on duty.
Jack Stevens Jack Stevens Thursday, January 03, 2013 6:59:49 PM No, it is called TRIAGE.
Ruth Lynn McCauley Ruth Lynn McCauley Thursday, January 03, 2013 7:37:56 PM That's why WHEN you stop smoking cigarettes u will be one of the most sought after EMT's ,move to D.C. and get paid to do what u absolutley love to do...which is to save lives...
Chris Karamitsos Chris Karamitsos Thursday, January 03, 2013 9:52:35 PM Really?. I lived in Mtl for many years. I presently work in New York State as an Firefighter/Advanced Life Support EMT. I have many friends who work for Urgence Sante(Montreal's EMS Service). They tell me all the time that they are 7 to 9 stretchers deep with 1 1/2 hr to 2 1/2 hr wait times to drop there patient on a hospital bed. I have also been told that they have to work full arrests in the hallways on their stretchers, because there are no rooms in the ED to take them. I seen it in Ottawa area hospital's myself. So I would ask you is there really a difference if you have to wait for the ambulance, or have the ambulance pick you up Basic Life Support ( Because Mtl does not have Advanced Life Support) then have you wait without treatment at the hospital?
Mike Branum Mike Branum Friday, January 04, 2013 12:02:29 AM WTF does smoking cigarettes have to do with anything?!?
Mike Branum Mike Branum Friday, January 04, 2013 12:09:31 AM Agreed, although I doubt there was much triage going on. Telecommunicators do an awesome job and I am sure they did their best, but they are not trained to do telephone triage in a situation like this (as far as I know - it would be unlike any call center I have known). This was basically a city-wide MCI. Of course, no one should be surprised after all the bad blood between labor and management in DCFD of late. Another unfortunate example of the message we do NOT, as the fire service brotherhood, want to be sending to the public.
Lynda Carter Lynda Carter Friday, January 04, 2013 6:22:13 AM Too bad the FF/EMS workers of today can do this with a clear conscience. Where is the duty to the people they serve and their compassion? Perhaps they are in the wrong field.
Steve Donovan Steve Donovan Friday, January 04, 2013 12:52:03 PM There was a report on DC Fire/EMS and they had the worst turn outs for medical calls especially for cardiac arrests but when came to structure fire their response times was cut at least IN HALF. Get out of the EMS side and do fire because your doing a terrible job at it !
Steve Donovan Steve Donovan Friday, January 04, 2013 1:02:43 PM Over all firefighters hate working on the bus and they always will. So it shouldn't be a surprise. How is DC Fire changing hiring practices ? Are they hiring only medics or are they hiring firefighters who may or may not have their EMT. Either way this is a system in total disrepair and has been for many years. But if you can show me they have made reforms since the 90's and response times are better and the Q/A is high standard then I will apologize and get off my soap box. Just sayn
Paul Russell Sr Paul Russell Sr Friday, January 04, 2013 5:37:26 PM The union don't care about tax payers. They are getting ready for obummer care.
Steve Jacobi Steve Jacobi Friday, January 04, 2013 6:10:03 PM And that excuses bad behavior? You are saying the hell with the patients because they will just die anyway? That is a very sad, sad attitude whch has no place in any health care to excuse your lack of professionalism.
Steve Jacobi Steve Jacobi Friday, January 04, 2013 6:12:06 PM Did you not read the article? The man started with chest pain and went into cardiac arrest 40 minutes later. 40 minutes gives you plenty of time to intervene including getting someone in a cath lab within that time.
David Shepherd David Shepherd Saturday, January 05, 2013 8:41:15 AM That's the difference between Fire Fighters and EMS. We both have our proven trades. EMS comes from the Heart to serve the injured/sick. Stop consolidating services!
Elizabeth Miller Elizabeth Miller Sunday, January 06, 2013 1:53:42 PM Media may not have those numbers right. I've been on calls where the reporter is standing on the street, 20 feet away from the amblance, calling it some other street, interviewing a "witness" who admitted she wasn't even there at the time of the incident. Don't believe anything you hear, and only half of what you see.
George Yaworski George Yaworski Monday, January 07, 2013 5:51:54 AM Can't imagine calling in sick on a holiday night, that is the worst time for drunk and stupid activities. When I was single I would volunteer for Xmas and NY so the family guys could spend it with their families, I also got to see a whole lot of "You did what?". EMS has a humanitarian side that is missing from other emergency professions, or at least there used to be.
Joanne Di Tomasso Joanne Di Tomasso Monday, January 07, 2013 1:23:41 PM Chris, Urgences Santé now has paramedics and not just BLS. Yes, it does happen but it`s not an every day occurence. There are peak periods as for example these days, people coming in and filling up ther ER for gastroenteritis and flu symptoms. Right off the bat, not all these patients should be taking up beds in the E.R. A 90 to 120 minute wait is not a daily thing. In over 20 years, I have never had to wait an hour an a half to get a stretcher for my patient. I think some of your friends are stretching the truty a bit, especially that they are now trying to negotiate their new work agreement that has not been renewed for the last 3 years. It will happen that you will work an arrest right off from when you leave the rig on your way to a crash room, and yes it does happen if someone is in that room, you have to be coding the patient inthe hallway while the find another room, but it`s a matter of minutes and your patient is brought to another bed. I am not saying our system is perfect, far from it, first of all there are too many people who who should not even be showing up at an ER, people here have been spoiled for many years and it was fine back then, but not anymore. To come back to the fact that you have all these people calling in sick, has nothing to do with the system itself, whether it be crowded or not. It is a question of being professional and doing your job. If my patient dies under my care but I did everything humanly possible for him, I will not have any problem sleeping at night. But if there are fatalities because 100 people decide to call in sick at New Year`s that I have a problem with because it is a question of integrity and being a professional and doing your job. We have all had to work on holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, heck I even had to come in my graveyard shift the day my sister got married many years ago, because there was nobody available to replace me (this being in mid summer during vacation time and on a weekend when welfare checks come in) So I went to my sister`s wedding and then went in to work. If you can`t show up when you are schedule because you decided to drink because it`s New Year`s or you just don`t feel like it, then I am sorry, that person does not belong in a job where you are called to work shifts and holidays. And I certainly don`t compare people dying because people don`t care enough about being present on the job when schedule to a person dying because of a full ER. Not the same in my book. We are talking about 100 people who called in sick, that`s ridiculous! Call me goody two shoes, but I have always slept well at night, have done my job professionally and proudly. My opinion only. Take care and be safe and say hello to your friends for me, if they are from the old guard, they know who I am. Cheers!
Ed Ball Ed Ball Sunday, January 20, 2013 7:15:34 AM When I was on the job at North Lake Tahoe, Nv, if your replacement called in sick, they called for voluntary OT and if the slot didn't get filled, you were forced...A condition of employment and never negotiated away by Local 2139 IAFF during contract negotiations.....

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