D.C. Fire/EMS announces new hires, purchase of new ambulances

Sixty new fire cadets and nine paramedics will be added to the city's ranks. Photo: John Gonzalez

WASHINGTON (AP/WJLA) - Long maligned for being short on both staff and equipment, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray was on hand to announce the hiring of 60 new D.C. Fire and EMS cadets, along with the addition of nine paramedics and 30 new ambulances.

"It's time for us to move this ball forward and get this department on track, so I'm ready, willing, and able," said Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe, who has been under fire recently for mishaps including two ambulances catching fire and the ambulance in President Obama’s motorcade running out of gas.

Ellerbe added that he was able to hire paramedics because the city has finally let him bypass the rule that requires them to be firefighters as well.

The new fire cadets are being trained to join the department, Gray announced Tuesday morning, and by the end of 2013, Gray says that the city will add all new ambulances to its fleet. Thirteen of those new units will be on the streets by the end of the week.

Gray's announcement came on the heels of a scathing indictment of the department's state as a whole by the International Association of Firefighters.

The department has struggled to provide timely emergency care. Dozens of paramedics have resigned in the past two years, and some ambulances have fallen into disrepair. The AP reported that the department is trying to make do with less than half the paramedics employed by departments that respond to similar numbers of medical calls.

A department spokesman says the new hires will be "single-role" paramedics, meaning they will ride on ambulances but not on fire engines, which are usually the first vehicles to respond to emergencies. Department officials have said many trained paramedics don't want to fight fires.

As for those who are calling for the Chief’s resignation, Mayor Gray had this to say: "I'm happy to reaffirm my commitment to Chief Ellerbe. He was the person I wanted in this job in the first place."

Ellerbe replied, "This has been the most difficult job I've ever had in my life, but it's also been the most rewarding."

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