After December 31, 2021, the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad (BCCRS) will no longer maintain an emergency line for residents of Washington, DC, to request EMS service from BCCRS directly. Residents of the District, including the areas of Upper Northwest formerly served by the Rescue Squad, should call 9-1-1 for any medical emergencies.
BCCRS’ ambulance service to the District dates back to the Rescue Squad’s founding in 1937—before DC Fire and EMS provided ambulance service and prior to the establishment of 9-1-1 as an emergency number. Both EMS and emergency communications have evolved significantly over the last century, causing a revisiting of the Rescue Squad’s service to the community. It has become clear that the agreement between BCCRS and DC Fire and EMS could result in an inadequate response for people in the District.
BCCRS, DC Fire and EMS, and other neighboring emergency response organizations are no longer individual departments serving small communities. We are part of an integrated fire, medical and rescue system. When people call the BCCRS emergency line, the ambulance that responds is no longer the closest or most appropriate EMS resource; in fact, it will likely drive past several stations in Montgomery County or DC that have ambulances or first response vehicles that could have provided a more rapid response.
Additionally, while the BCCRS EMTs and paramedics answering the Rescue Squad’s emergency line are highly trained medical clinicians, they do not have access to the technology now available in most 9-1-1 communications centers, including those operated by DC and Montgomery County. Using 9-1-1 assures callers in DC that they are reaching emergency telecommunications specialists with access to computer-aided medical dispatch protocols, automatic location identification, nurse triage and other resources.
In short, the answer is no. The technologies mentioned above require a massive investment in infrastructure. It is not feasible or wise for individual agencies like the Rescue Squad to maintain those capabilities. With further advancements allowing for text-to-911, sending images and video to dispatchers, and more, that will only become even more apparent.
BCCRS leadership would not have made this decision had it not been for several changes to DC Fire and EMS operations and resources in recent years. DC Fire and EMS has enhanced its service, with more advanced life support units available throughout the District, including upper Northwest. The current agreement between DC Fire and EMS and American Medical Response, known as AMR, also provides additional resources to supplement the DC Fire and EMS capabilities.
BCCRS is part of the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue system. As such, units from the Rescue Squad dispatched by Montgomery County to incidents within the county and, at times, those outside the county, per regional mutual aid agreements. Should DC officials request assistance from Montgomery County, BCCRS units and personnel may be part of the Montgomery County response.
Residents and visitors of the District are encouraged to dial 9-1-1 for any medical emergencies beginning immediately. However, the Rescue Squad will continue to answer the emergency line during a transition period. Until January 1, 2022, we will continue to send a BCCRS ambulance, per our current memorandum of understanding with the District, while also notifying the DC Office of Unified Communications of the incident. After that date, callers who use the emergency line will be directed to call 9-1-1 via an automated recording. There is also consideration being given to an automatic call forwarding system that would transfer the phone call to the emergency line to a qualified emergency call taker at a 9-1-1 call center.
Effective January 1, 2022, BCCRS will no longer operate the emergency number or respond directly to calls originating in the District of Columbia.