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President Obama's ambulance runs out of gas, sparks criticism

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WASHINGTON (WJLA) - As President Barack Obama travels to and from the White House in his motorcade, the number one concern is keeping him safe.

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A critical constant is a D.C. Fire and EMS ambulance, typically Medic 1, that tails behind in the event of a medical emergency.

But on Aug. 8, as the President and First Lady were leaving the White House to celebrate Mr. Obama’s 52nd birthday at the restaurant Rasika in West End, Medic 1 ran out of gas.

Fire officials confirm that the vehicle was towed away and is now being repaired off-site. Fire officials say that as per policy, the crew should have but did not fill up the tank that day.

Sources say the bigger issue, though, is that the vehicle’s fuel gauge had been broken for months and not been repaired.

On Tuesday night, the D.C. Fire Department released a statement in which a secret service spokesperson wrote: “Any issues with equipment related to the movement on Thursday 8/8/13, were dealt with quickly and efficiently and there was no break in ambulance coverage for the motorcade." That spokesperson refused to elaborate on the statement.

For months, D.C. Councilman Tommy Wells has been critical of the fire department for not quickly addressing a fleet in despair. He says all District residents, including those in the White House, deserve better:

"This is just an example that highlights the fact that we are not where we need to be," Wells said. This rings especially true, as only days later, two different ambulances were involved in incidents involving smoke and fire.

According to an official Press Pool report, the Aug. 8 motorcade left the White House around 6:40 p.m. A fire department spokesperson says another ambulance, Medic 7, was dispatched and arrived at the White House at approximately 6:59 p.m. – nearly 20 minutes later.

But by then, the motorcade was long gone. The restaurant is only a couple of miles away from the presidential mansion.

According to surveillance video, when the motorcade left Rasika, Medic 7 was parked off to the left. Multiple sources familiar with protocol say since Medic 7 was not in the motorcade, it likely had not gone through a security sweep and therefore could not have been used by the president anyway if something had happened.

Sources say the crew aboard Medic 1 could face harsh punishment for not fueling up that day. But sources also say the gas gauge on Medic 1 had been broken for months, and despite the problem being reported, it hadn’t been fixed.

A fire department spokesperson disputes the account, but union officials told ABC7 on Tuesday that they knew about the problems with Medic 1.

Keith St. Clair is the Director of Communications with the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice. He wrote in a statement on Tuesday:

It is completely unacceptable for a vehicle in service to ever run out of gasoline. Every morning, our crews are instructed to refuel and ensure their vehicle has a full tank. It is important that our employees are consistent to detail while performing their duties, because the goal of our mission is to keep everyone in the District safe.

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