D.C. firefighters union says chief's ambulance crew scheduling shift could risk lives

D.C.'s firefighters union and Chief Kenneth Ellerbe are at odds over a scheduling shift for ambulance crews in the District.

Ed Smith, president of the D.C. Firefighters Assoc. Local 36, says the changes could jeopardize lives.

Ellerbe's plan would shift the number of paramedics. Fewer would work over night. More would work during the day.

Smith admits there is a peak time in demand during the day, but he doesn't think the solution is to take away from the night shift.

"It's gambling on people's lives," Smith says. "You're going to take 14 units off the streets from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m. It's a bad, bad idea."

If approved, the proposal would affect advance life support paramedics.

Smith called the plan antiquated, saying some of the most violent medical emergencies happen overnight.

"When you take 14 units off the street, out of that 39, you're decreasing our transport capabilities, the ability to take somebody to the hospital by 36 percent."

He says the solution is not redeployment of staff but rather to hire more staff, something Smith says is not happening.

"It's tearing the department apart and the citizens and visitors are suffering," Smith says.

Initially, it seemed Ellerbe didn't want to answer questions from reporters. Then he changed his mind and addressed concerns from the union.

"We understand their concerns and we're going to do everything we can to accommodate them, the best way we can," Ellerbe says.

Ellerbe was questioned over the vacancies and lack of hiring in his department that some argue has created more tension with an already frayed union. But he says the department will start hiring.

"A lot of our attention has been turned into the District to help reduce the unemployment numbers here in Washington, D.C.," Ellerbe says. "If we don't have qualified paramedics here in the city, then we'll go outside the city."