WASHINGTON – It’s the size and shape of a tractor-trailer, but the ambulance bus is meant for hauling as many as 20 patients on stretchers plus medics.
The National Capital Region now has seven shiny new ambulance buses, as well as numerous other vital pieces of equipment to handle major disasters, thanks to homeland security grants.
The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Fire Chiefs Committee held a news conference Thursday morning on the National Mall, to show off their gleaming new equipment.
There are five medical care support units each capable of providing medical supplies for up to 500 patients, 10,000 sets of replacement protective gear in case of contamination, new mobile air units and 1,250 high-frequency radios, according to the committee.
The equipment, which is spread among the various emergency agencies in the region, was purchased with $54 million in grants, which also covered corresponding training programs.
Most of this equipment was unavailable on Sept. 11, 2001, when, in one of a series of terrorist attacks, the Pentagon was struck by American Airlines Flight 77, killing more than 180 people and bringing the region to a standstill.
“The response in this region to 9/11 was actually remarkable, but that’s not to say there wasn’t room for improvement,” Arlington County Fire Chief James Schwartz said.
The events at the Pentagon, Hurricane Katrina and the July 7, 2005, London terrorist bombings, were all factors in assessing the National Capital Region’s emergency needs and deficiencies, Schwartz said.
The ambulance buses filled a large gap, said Chief Thomas Carr of the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service. A typical ambulance can carry one or two patients, he said, but the giant ones eliminate the caravan of ambulances, which can crowd emergency scenes.
Paramedics and standard ambulances can now be better utilized, Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department Chief Lawrence Sedgwick said.
Emergency workers’ ability to obtain breathable air during a fiery tragedy also improved markedly with the grants, the chiefs said. At the Pentagon, the fire was so large and so many firefighters were on hand they couldn’t replenish air tanks fast enough, Schwartz said.
Now the region has eight mobile air units, each carrying the largest mobile air compressor model in the United States, capable of refilling up to 70 tanks an hour.
These improvements are designed with major emergencies in mind, whether it be a weapon of mass destruction, natural disaster or biohazard, but they also make daily operations easier for all departments, Carr said.
“This is not just about Prince George’s County,” Sedgwick said, “the entire region benefits equally.”
“Day-to-day our regional communications are good,” Carr said, but these additions are about making sure they’re just as good when the situation is magnified.