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Candid interview with interim director at DC 911 – says culture of fear delayed call to help child

Chris Geldart, the head of DC’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management agency was picked in May to fill-in as director of the Office of Unified Communications (OUC), the 911 center in the Nation’s Capital. As the city conducts a national search for a 911 professional to lead the agency, Geldart has the thankless job of starting to clean up the place following many years of neglect.

WRC-TV/NBC 4 reporter Mark Segraves interviewed Geldart today (Thursday), two days after a report was released into the delay in getting help to 18-month-old Matthew Cuesta, who had stopped breathing and died on March 13. Geldart talks about some of the concerns I brought up in my rant yesterday when I complained that no one was focusing on the slow call processing time (3:26) and the other issues at OUC. Instead, most of the attention was on the lieutenant at Paramedic Engine 20 and what he did or didn’t do after his company was not dispatched to the call (the house is three blocks from Paramedic Engine 20).

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Previous coverage here & here

Paul Wagner’s report on the failure of communications tablets in fire & EMS apparatus

There are a number of things worth noting in this interview. Mr. Geldart says there was a culture of fear about being disciplined if call takers stopped the EMD script to immediately send help on priority calls such as a child who has stopped breathing. It’s scary to think how many people have been impacted by this backwards thinking at OUC.  Geldart says that in this case the call was sent to dispatch at about 2:30, which leaves another :56 of processing before it was finally dispatched.

Because of the culture of fear at OUC, Geldart says there would be no discipline of the dispatcher. While Geldart says there was a thorough investigation of the OUC end of the Warren Street call, there is no report to release to the public.

Contrast this to a 47-page report from the DC Fire and EMS Department focusing on one lieutenant’s role in this response. That lieutenant’s job is on the line as he faces serious disciplinary charges because he used bad judgement by failing to self-dispatch on this call close to the firehouse. The lieutenant from Paramedic Engine 20 also gave an indication there is a culture in the fire department of officers getting in trouble for self-dispatching.

Once again, I don’t want you to think I am excusing anything the lieutenant did or didn’t do. There are some serious issues that need to be addressed based on his statements in that report (Read entire report here). But the lieutenant is going to be the fall guy for this — the only one disciplined. The lieutenant and the DC Fire and EMS Department are getting the blame in the news media for the failure to help Matthew Cuesta. Few are realizing this call failed at OUC before the lieutenant even knew of the response.

Geldart admits the problems with the communications tablets in the rigs that did not show Paramedic Engine 20 and Ambulance 20 available had been poorly handled by the former OUC director Jennifer Greene and her staff (learn more hear from WTTG-TV/FOX 5 reporter Paul Wagner).

Geldart also admits the call processing times at OUC for EMS calls in general have not improved. They are still in the 2:30 to 5:00 range. He indicates improvements on that issue are a work in progress.

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