Deadly ambulance delay in DC – did the technology or the people fail, or both?


Paul Wagner, WTTG-TV/FOX 5:

District officials have launched an investigation into why it took as long as 22 minutes to get help to a dying a man.

It happened last week near Georgetown. Someone called 911 to say a man had collapsed in a field.

First responders have been complaining for weeks that new dispatch technology isn’t working. As a result, ambulances and fire engines have been racing all over the city answering calls that could have been handled by units located closer to emergencies.

One of the latest emergencies includes, a 31-year-old man who ended up dead.

The first call on December 10, went out for a “person down” just after 6 p.m. with the caller telling 911 that a man was in distress in a field north of K Street.

Engine 23, located a few blocks away on the campus of George Washington University took the call but couldn’t find the man.

DC ambulance delay georgetown 1 12-15-14

It’s noted in what’s called the computer aided dispatch as “good intent” and Engine 23 moved on.

However, a few minutes later, a D.C. police officer found the man lying on his back face up. He was unconscious and unresponsive, and the officer couldn’t wake him up.

911 then dispatched Ambulance 13 and Engine 11 even though both were miles away.

According to the call records, the dispatches thought Engine 11 was in quarters 2.8 miles away. However, the engine with a paramedic on board was more than 5.5 miles away in traffic.

The record shows both got on the scene at 6:34 p.m. with the “subject on ambulance going into cardiac arrest.”

31-year-old Jeffrey Scott Delay was pronounced dead a short while later at George Washington University Hospital.

The union blames the problem on new wireless technology and the hardware called tablets that go with it. If it worked correctly, the technology would accurately show where every fire truck and ambulance was in the city.

The union says the technology has glitches. Dispatchers are having trouble keeping track of the equipment on the street.

It’s such a problem, Interim Chief, Eugene Jones, told Fox 5 on Friday the department has gone back to dispatch by radio.

“There are computer issues because we are implementing a new system and anytime you are implementing a new system you are going to have those issues”, Said Interim Fire Chief Eugene Jones, “And the Office of Unified Communications is working through that to make sure the equipment we use is working.”

In the meantime Chief Jones said: “Having to revert back to radio (is not something) I’m concerned about that but obviously when personnel go from one system to another there are issues they identify and we have to respond to that”.

Sources familiar with the investigation say Engine 11 told the dispatcher where they were and advised another unit should be sent but that wasn’t done.

Union President,Ed Smith, released the following statement:

“This is a case of our firefighters being set up to fail by the Office of Unified Communication (911 Center) pushing new technology into the field that was not properly tested. The new computers failed and continue to do so. Unfortunately, the firefighters performing at their usual high level  wasn’t enough to overcome the bad decision making by the 911 Center.”

A spokesperson for the Office of Unified Communications released the following statement:  

“The OUC received a 911 call from a third party caller advising that someone had passed out. The call taker processed the call and sent the call to be dispatched. At 18:09:17 FEMS Engine 23 was dispatched. At the time of dispatch, no transport units were available. At 18:09:33 E23 statused enroute via their tablet. E23 arrived on scene at 18:12:28 and statused their arrival via their tablet. At 18:14 E23 advised that several citizens were outside and no one advised they needed the ambulance and E23 advised the dispatcher “call it good intent; we’re going in service”. At approximately the same time, A13 and E11P were dispatched in order to fill the required units for the incident type (once both units became available from prior calls). After being dispatched, E11P advised they were at North Capitol and Webster St NE and advised to put a first responder on the incident due to the location they were responding from. The dispatcher advised E11P that “E11 and A13 is all we have.” The OUC received a 2nd call at 18:19 advising he saw the fire truck and it appeared they were looking for the person. The caller provided additional information that the person was on the right side of the bridge near the Rock Creek Park Memorial and that the person had possibly overdosed. At 18:27 A13 requested the closest medic to their location for an unconscious patient. EMS5 was dispatched  at 18:30. E11P arrived on scene at 18:38.

E11P has been using a reserve fire engine that did not have a tablet installed in it. We also listened to the radio traffic from E11P and at no time did they advise the dispatcher they were not a paramedic engine. After investigating the incident, all 911 calls and related transmissions, this call was handled appropriately by the OUC and any previously reported issues with the new tablets played no role in the dispatching of this incident.”

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