D.C. Fire staffing concerns threaten Fourth of July celebration

The Fourth of July events on the National Mall attract massive crowds. Up until late Tuesday afternoon, sources tell 7 On Your Side that the D.C. Fire Department, due to staffing and ambulance shortages, would not be able to provide coverage for the event. But soon after 7 On Your Side got involved, things changed.

For years, the District EMTS and paramedics have worked the Fourth of July show, responding quickly to medical emergencies along the Mall. But the National Park Service confirmed last week, a D.C. Fire official told them the five advance life support ambulances and gators that normally work the event would be allocated elsewhere.

Spokesperson Carol Johnson said the NPS is “confident we’ll get private companies to take care of this… The first order of business for the NPS is to keep visitors safe.”

Sources familiar with the issue say the Fire Department doesn’t have enough working ambulances and personnel to cover the city and a major event at the same time without incurring huge overtime costs.

“We are stretched to the limit in providing care on a daily basis. The Fourth of July only makes that worse,” says Kenneth Lyons.

Lyons leads the local union representing civil EMTS and paramedics.

Less than 45 minutes after ABC7 asked spokespersons for the Fire Department and the mayor’s office to explain why they couldn’t provide coverage for a major event, the issue was resolved. According to a spokesperson, the NPS confirms that D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe personally assured the federal agency that they’ll provide ambulances and gators for the Fourth of July celebration.

In a prepared statement, a fire spokesperson says, “Any allegation that the Department will not be able to fulfill its commitment and compromise public safety are speculative and without merit.”

Lyons says he would appreciate a straight answer.

“To proceed under this cloud of confusion, I think we do at a huge risk,” he says.

Lyons predicts the only way the Fire Department can make it work on the Fourth is by doing what’s called an emergency callback, which allows the Department to have personnel work mandatory overtime, sometimes an additional 12+ hour shift. He says that kind of stress can impact patient care.