City Buying 30 New Ambulances—But Not Fast Enough

The recent, embarrassing spectacle of burning DC ambulances may be a thing of the past. Perhaps.

By: Harry Jaffe

Mayor Vince Gray will announce this morning that the city has bought 30 new ambulances, according to fire department sources. Gray and his fire officials will try to get the new trucks in place as quickly as two a week. If they can pull that off, the city will have 30 new trucks by the end of the year.

The new trucks are welcome news, but they are arriving too late to erase a disastrous 2013 for DC Fire and Emergency Services. Bad news started on New Year’s Day when a DC resident died of a heart attack while waiting for an ambulance. Ambulances failed throughout the summer. Many succumbed to heat and were out of service. The city was forced to contract with private ambulance services to handle special events.

It got worse: Two ambulances caught fire two weeks ago. An ambulance assigned to accompany a presidential motorcade ran out of gas earlier this month.

Fire chief Kenneth Ellerbe had to admit in March testimony before the city council that nearly half of the ambulances were out of service, though his department had reported that all was well. Ellerbe testified that 58 of the District’s 111 ambulances were currently out of service. 

The fire department was forced to pay an outside firm $180,000 to examine its ambulance fleet, according to WAMU. The report is due this fall. 

The mayor and Ellerbe are scheduled to unveil the purchase of the new ambulances at a 10 AM press conference Tuesday. They are scheduled to announce new hires for the city’s depleted paramedic force, as well.

Edward Smith, president of the DC Firefighters Association, welcomed the new ambulances.

“The union has been steadfast in demanding better equipment,” he told Washingtonian. “We still have concerns about the engines and trucks that respond to fires. Their condition is not far behind the ambulances.”

The union has been at war with Ellerbe and called for his removal. Thirty new ambulances will not change that dynamic.

See also: Incident With DC Fire Chief Leads to Police Complaint