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DC fire chief responds to scathing medical director resignation letter

City officials stand with the fire chief and the pace of reforms to training, staffing and bringing in private ambulances

WASHINGTON — D.C. Fire Chief Gregory Dean has responded to the sudden and very public resignation of the city’s medical director, Dr. Jullette Saussy, by defending his department.

Saussy’s scathing resignation letter criticized the fire department for its toxic culture and slow response times, citing an incident that occurred last month when a man with stab wounds died after it took firefighters 18 minutes after the 911 call to arrive at the scene.

The Washington Post reported Dean, who was hired nine months ago after a 44-year career with the Seattle Fire Department, agreed there are flaws in the department but felt Saussy was excessively harsh in her criticism.

“I think that we have done a lot of things in the nine months I have been here,” said Dean, listing off the additional hiring and training that has happened under his leadership and his proposed plan to contract with private ambulances to transport patients in non-life-threatening situations.

“Our units will respond to the incident. They will do an assessment of the patient. After that assessment, they will determine if we can call an ambulance so that all our units are not going to be stuck in the ER room trying to get back in service,” said Dean, explaining the proposed plan.

Saussy denounced Dean’s plan in the letter and said it amounted to putting a Band-Aid on a gushing artery.

District officials said Saussy disagreed with the fundamental structure of the department, which combined EMS and firefighting, and was pushing to instead create separate agencies.

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser said they would find someone to replace her who could better work within the current structure. “What’s important is that we have a team committed to our system and not saying, ‘This is the system here, I don’t like it, so you got to change it or else,’” Bowswer said.

D.C. City Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, one of the strongest advocates for EMS reform, said while he does find Saussy’s letter concerning, he stands by Dean.

“I have no question in my mind about his competence,” Mendelson said. “I do have a question in my mind about how deep and pervasive the quality of EMS service is.”

Dean maintains that the fire department is doing everything it can to improve the system, but acknowledges it is an uphill battle.

“It would be nice to see a miracle happen. It’s a system that has been challenged for many years. In nine months, we are talking about changes that this organization has never seen before,” Dean said.

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