NMG’s Ben Nuckols chases DC ambulances, wins Best of States

Ben Nuckols

Ben Nuckols

NMG member and MidAtlantic reporter Ben Nuckols won last week’s AP Best of the States award award for a scoop on the dire straits of ambulance service in the District of Columbia.

Nuckols had heard numerous anecdotes indicating it’s become nearly impossible to keep ambulances there staffed with a paramedic, due to the district only hiring two replacements for the 40 paramedics who have quit in recent years. One of those 40 told of finally quitting after having to single-handedly deliver two babies, one of them in a breach position and not breathing.

Nuckols decided to document the problem. As no national database on call volumes for city paramedic fleets existed, he created his own, plotting call volume and deployment strategies in 30 cities. He used data obtained from unions, fire chiefs and the cities.

Nuckols’ resulting chart showed cities with similar call volumes had two to four times as many paramedics on duty as DC. He noted that unlike many other cities, DC doesn’t cross-train firefighters to be paramedics.

And he highlighted a big roadblock to a solution: political fighting among the mayor, the DC Council and the fire chief.

Along with wide national play, the story won rare local usage in The Washington Post and the area’s broadcast outlets, with WJLA tweeting that AP’s findings were “startling.”