Nearly a third of the District's firefighters scheduled to work called in sick on New Year's Eve, creating a staffing shortage that left some ambulances without drivers and long waits for emergency responders.
About 100 firefighters took the sick day, including some who staff the city's ambulances, confirms D.C.'s Deputy Mayor Paul Quander, who oversees public safety. That left nearly a dozen ambulances sidelined on a busy night.
"These were individuals who were scheduled to work, they knew they were supposed to be at work, and they chose not to come to work,” says Quander.
The District has about 340 firefighters on staff, and generally, only about 20 to 30 call in sick on any given day. But on Monday it was more than three times that amount.
According to WTTG, one man died from cardiac arrest while waiting for an ambulance on New Year's Eve. Another had to be transported to the hospital on the back of a fire truck.
The D.C. Firefighter's union blames the city for not doing a better job of staffing for the holiday, and denies the mass call-out on New Year's Eve was coordinated. They say the incident could have been avoided if the department was properly staffed.
Some members of the fire department have been outspoken about a recent decision by D.C.'s mayor not to give them holiday pay on Christmas Eve. Whether or not there's any correlation between that grievance and the New Years Eve staffing issue is being investigated by the city.
"It’s unfair, not only to the citizens of the District of Columbia, it’s unfair to other firefighters who in fact did show up and who worked their shift,” says Quander. “It further illuminates the problem when the very next day, the holiday, virtually everyone shows up. So is this a question about staffing, or is this just a question about money?"
The President of D.C.'s firefighter's union, Edward Smith, vehemently denies any connection.
“Even faced with some challenges on New Year’s Eve, they still managed to make do, and even if it meant putting a patient in the fire truck, sitting in between ‘em and taking care of them on the way to the hospital,” says Smith. “That’s the level of dedication you’ll see."