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Six-minutes were lost this (Saturday) morning when DC Fire & EMS Department firefighters were sent to the wrong quadrant of the city for a report of a fire in an apartment building. It’s unclear if this was a dispatcher error or the caller provided wrong information. It’s also not known what cues or clues–if any–were available to the call-taker that would have helped determine the correct address.
The video (above) has the radio traffic from OpenMHz. The audio is missing part of the original dispatch from the Office of Unified Communications (OUC or 911 center) for a report of a building fire at 1432 Girard Street in Northeast Washington that occurred at 11:04:22.
At 11:06:16, the officer of Engine 26 realized something was wrong. He told OUC that the call-taker’s notes on his terminal showed that this was supposed to be a building with five floors. The officer said, “There’s no structure in this area that’s five floors.” The 1400 block of Girard Street, Northeast–in the Brookland neighborhood–is mostly single family homes, with churches at each end of the block. The highest address in the block is one of the churches, at 1423.
At 11:07:12, the officer of Engine 14 suggest that OUC check to see if this is supposed to be a Northwest address. The battalion chief relays that message to OUC.
At 11:09:01, OUC confirms that this was a Northwest address–28 blocks or about three-miles away–and everyone on the Northeast assignment was put in service.
At 11:10:20, almost six-minutes after the incorrect dispatch, OUC dispatched DC firefighters to the correct location, 1432 Girard Street, Northwest. There, firefighters found a five-story apartment building and an apartment with burnt food on the stove.
The quadrant system planned by Pierre L’Enfant 228-years-ago remains a regular source for dispatch errors in the District of Columbia. It has long been known that call-takers must be diligent to avoid these mistakes. It’s another reason why it’s key to make sure all those who work at OUC know the city, it’s main roads, neighborhoods and landmarks. Just teaching call-takers and dispatchers to follow computer prompts and read scripts will not cut it.
Here’s what appears to be a similar situation on November 15 when–about 10-minutes apart–two structure fires were dispatched by OUC with the same street address, but in different quadrants of the city.
STATter911 has put in a request to OUC for more details on how these incorrect dispatches occurred and why they took many minutes to correct. We will update this post if more information is provided.
OUC has a long history of errors and delays. Its director for the past four years, Karima Holmes, was recently under fire by DC Council members for a four-minute delay dispatching firefighters to a rowhouse fire where two people died. Holmes explanations for the delay were met with skepticism by the elected officials. Frankly, they didn’t make much sense.
More recently, OUC has a series of significant delays dispatching firefighters to rail emergencies on Metro. On December 10, it took almost 10-minutes for OUC to send firefighters to a report of a fire on the tracks near the Woodley Park Metro Station. Despite requests, OUC officials have not explained why there was such a lengthy delay.