DC officials: 911 abuse causes ambulance shortage

Call volume for ambulances is at all-time high and includes calls for stubbed toes, headaches and toothaches


WASHINGTON — The death of a 5-month-old infant last Thursday brought attention to a growing problem in the District of Columbia: 911 abuse.

The young boy, who was suffering from an asthma attack, was brought to the hospital in a fire engine because the closest ambulance was 7 miles away. He made it to the hospital in critical condition, but did not survive.

Officials say 911 abuse contributes to a shortage of available ambulances, NBC Washington reported.

The head of the D.C. firefighters union and city officials say people call for an ambulance when they don’t really need one.

"It’s way out of control. Something needs to be done about it," said Ed Smith, president of D.C. Firefighters Association, Local 36. "It could be as simple as a stubbed toe or headache."

The number of low-priority, non-life-threatening calls so far this year was more than 56,000. There were 1,300 calls for the most critical emergencies.

"At the end of the day if they want to go to the hospital, we have to provide that service to them," Smith said.

City officials said the number of calls for medical emergencies is at an all-time high, becoming a burden on the fire department and on surrounding jurisdictions, which send help when D.C. Fire and EMS is shorthanded.

In addition to 911 abuse, D.C. isn’t fully deploying all its ambulances, using 10 fewer than the available 49 on two recent days.

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