Emergency Vehicle Access Eased; No More Stops at Checkpoints

Article excerpt

Byline: Elizabeth Green, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

D.C. and federal officials yesterday agreed to allow emergency vehicles to proceed through the new security checkpoints set up throughout the city.

The agreement follows a report Friday in The Washington Times that ambulances and firetrucks rushing to emergencies were stopped at security checkpoints around the U.S. Capitol.

"We are very happy that these discussions have occurred," said Alan Etter, a spokesman for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. "We are confident that potential problems will be averted in the short term and improvement will be seen in service delivery in the long term."

Mr. Etter said a specific improvement involved the establishment of a "ring-down line," or a direct link among fire, emergency medical services communications and U.S. Capitol Police.

Under the agreement, dispatchers now will call Capitol Police if a fire engine or ambulance must pass through a security checkpoint to respond to an emergency. Police will then allow the emergency vehicles to pass without stopping at a checkpoint.

The latest agreement was reached during a 90-minute meeting organized by D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who over the last week has criticized the tighter security imposed in the District.

Mrs. Norton said Sunday that her main priority was to discuss the closure of First Street NE. D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey agreed yesterday that street closures were a priority.

Both said road closures will lead to more traffic congestion and could make a potential evacuation of the city more dangerous.

Yesterday's meeting did not result in any street openings.

Chief Ramsey had complained that Capitol Police only gave him an hour's notice last week before the officers shut down First Street NE. The closure came after Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge raised the terror alert to Code Orange on Aug. 1.

Chief Ramsey said yesterday the late notice was a "misunderstanding."

"We had a miscommunication," he said. "I don't believe that will happen again."

Officials agreed yesterday that D.C. and congressional security officials will meet monthly to "stay on top of things," Chief Ramsey said. …