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Opinion

Examiner Local Editorial: Make that D.C. ambulance probe stat

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Opinion,Local Editorial

Late last month, D.C. Councilman Tommy Wells asked D.C. Inspector General Charles Willoughby to launch an investigation into why 25 employees in the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department were racking up more than $1 million in overtime pay. News that the victim of a hit-and-run (who also happens to be a D.C. police officer) had to wait 18 minutes for an ambulance from another jurisdiction adds real urgency to Wells' request.

On March 8, 2007 the District government settled a lawsuit with the family of New York Times reporter David Rosenbaum, who died after FEMS failed to provide him with timely and appropriate care after he was severely beaten during a 2006 street mugging. In return for dropping its suit, the Rosenbaum family demanded that a task force be convened with the specific goal of "improving the delivery of emergency medical services by FEMS."

The injured officer was struck Tuesday evening by an unidentified white Lexus allegedly driven by a 24-year-old Southeast man, who was subsequently arrested. But what happened immediately after the hit-and-run shows that the delivery of emergency medical assistance has not improved much since Rosenbaum's premature death.

Even though two paramedics arrived on the scene within eight minutes, not one ambulance in the entire District of Columbia was available to transport the injured cop to a hospital. Dispatchers had to call Prince George's County, and help did not arrive for 18 minutes. It's only luck that the injured officer survived and is reportedly in stable condition. Had another District resident suffered a life-threatening heart attack or other medical emergency at that moment, that resident probably would have died waiting for an ambulance.

City officials have launched an internal probe into why an "inordinate number of ambulances were out of service" that day. Even though FEMS paid its employees more than $1 million in overtime, not one of the 39 ambulances scheduled to be on the streets that evening showed up to aid the officer when summoned. The inspector general must get to the bottom of that shocking fact, which has dire implications for public safety.

In his letter to Willoughby, Wells, chairman of the council's Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, correctly described the massive abuse of overtime as "egregious," with the "potential for fraud." Wells should insist that Willoughby immediately conduct a full-scale probe of FEMS -- including independent verification of all duty logs -- and that he give it his highest priority.

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