And yet another DC 911 screw-up

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The stories this week by reporter Paul Wagner further illustrate what many — including me — have been saying for decades. The problems at DC’s 911 center are about leadership, hiring, training and procedures.

Actually, the real leadership problem is at the top of the District of Columbia government. The mayor and city council have never understood the people part is the most important component of a 911 center. Their belief has always been the problems can be solved with technology alone.

This is why only firefighters and those who know how a 911 center should really work are outraged when the DC Office of Unified Communications (OUC) earlier in the week pointed to computer failure after dispatchers took ten-minutes to transmit an additional alarm of fire. The mayor, deputy mayor and city council just accept that response while having no clue that a properly run 911 center should be able to promptly send the equipment manually when computers fail.

Now, for the third time this week, Wagner is reporting a case of an incident commander unable to promptly get the help that was requested during a working incident.

Paul Wagner, WTTG-TV/FOX 5:

One day after FOX 5 reported about significant delays in sending additional firefighters and equipment to major fires in the city in the last two weeks, it has happened again.

At one scene, the delay was ten minutes while it was six minutes in the other fire. The Office of Unified Communications, otherwise known as the 911 center, admitted there had been mistakes.

We have now learned of another lengthy delay in getting help to a fire in the Trinidad section of Northeast D.C.

Just before 11 a.m. Wednesday, a fire broke out in a rowhouse in the 1100 block of Staples Street. When firefighters pulled up, they reported smoke coming from the home.

Within seconds, the on-scene commander asks for what is called a working fire dispatch. It is a request that turns into several minutes of confusion at the 911 center. Here is some of what is said over the radio communication between the dispatcher and the commander:

Commander: “Command 6 to communications. Are you saying you put three engines, a truck and a chief on a working fire dispatch?”

Dispatcher: “That is correct. Channel one put those units on the working fire dispatch in error. There was supposed to be only one engine, truck, deputy fire chief of operations, air unit.”

But as the firefighter’s union points out, it is routine and essential to put an ambulance and other equipment on the call. This is something that was not done for approximately ten minutes.

Commander: “What medic units did you put on the working fire dispatch?”

Dispatcher: “She did not put any medic units. Let me advise her, okay?”

At 11:04 a.m., ten minutes after the request for help, it is finally sent.

The firefighter’s union said this is an ongoing problem and it needs to be fixed.

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