A D.C. woman who called 911 ended up getting out of an ambulance and taking Metro to a hospital after two responders started arguing, she said.
Rose Preston thought she was having a stroke when she began experiencing numbness and tingling on the left side of her face around 2:15 a.m. March 15. She called 911, but once she was inside the ambulance, two members of D.C. Fire & EMS began having a heated argument.
"They were constantly bickering back and forth with one another, and to the point that I felt so uncomfortable," she said.
Preston wasn't sure what the two men were arguing about but said it seemed to be personal.
"I didn't feel safe being transported by the vehicle," said Preston, an Army veteran. She was feeling a little better after receiving the oxygen and decided to get out of the ambulance before they began driving.
Sources familiar with the incident say Paramedic Engine 27 responded from Deanwood in Northeast, as well as Ambulance 19 from Southeast.
In a March 18 memo to Chief Kenneth Ellerbe, a firefighter said her partner asked where the Engine 27 medic was.
"Someone went and got him and my partner asked him if he was going to check out the [patient] due to the nature of the dispatch. Medic started to assess the [patient] and he and my partner got into a verbal altercation about why it was needed for someone to get him."
"The EMTs on the basic unit in order to gain additional information on the patient's condition asked that the firefighter paramedic be retrieved so he could preform certain care that they're not allowed to do," explained AFGE Local 3721 President Ken Lyons.
According to the memo to the chief, the patient said the argument was completely unprofessional and she did not want to go to the hospital anymore.
Preston said the paramedics didn't seem to care that she was leaving and didn't ask her to sign a patient refusal, which is standard.
"A total lack of professionalism in every way you can imagine," she said.
She received an apology and was advised she should still go to the hospital, the firefighter said in the memo.
Preston took the Metro to a VA hospital later that day.
She learned she was not having a stroke but was suffering from Bell's palsy, which requires immediate medical care.
"It really complicated my condition by not being able to receive adequate medical attention when I called," she said.
D.C. Fire & EMS confirmed they are investigating the incident but did not comment further.
"Any instance where a patient feels uncomfortable by the presence of our members who have sworn to protect them is unacceptable," Chief Kenneth Ellerbe said.
The department is already under fire for a number of high-profile incidents, among them the death of a 77-year-old man who collapsed right across the street from a fire station in January. His daughter pleaded with a firefighter to respond but was told to call 911 instead.