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D.C. fire points to faster response times, union says safety an issue

Sunday - 8/4/2013, 8:05am  ET

WASHINGTON - There are claims that the D.C Fire and EMS Department's ability to respond to emergencies has deteriorated under the current fire chief. But he's saying ambulances and fire trucks now are responding to critical calls faster.

Chief Kenneth Ellerbe says the improved responses are part of an effort that started in March and April to pay greater attention to detail and institute management controls in order to get people quality medical care faster.

In a release, the department says response times -- meaning how long it takes for a fire truck or ambulance to arrive on the scene after being dispatched -- dropped from an average of five minutes and three seconds when measured in February to four minutes and two seconds by June.

Officials say 92 percent of responses occurred within six minutes and 30 seconds or less.

The district's firefighters union says while it is "encouraged" that the city's response times have been reduced, it appears the faster times are coming at a cost to the safety of citizens and firefighters.

The union says there's been a spike in traffic accidents involving fire trucks and ambulances as crews try to get to patients in less time. It adds the best way to shorten response time is to fully staff D.C Fire and EMS and have a reliable fleet of vehicles.

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