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NEW: DC 911 says dispatchers didn’t tell fire & EMS their patient was in cardiac arrest

10-minutes lost in upgrading the call to CPR in progress

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When the crew from DC Fire & EMS Medic 17 arrived at a Northeast home earlier this month they found a man in cardiac arrest and called for help. What Medic 17 didn’t know at the time is the 911 center first learned 10 minutes earlier that someone in the home had started CPR on the patient. A spokesperson for DC 911 tells STATter911 dispatchers never relayed that crucial information to EMS crews. Dispatchers also didn’t immediately send the extra personnel the 911 center’s protocols require on cardiac arrest calls.

The 911 call was made from a home on 26th Street in the Langdon neighborhood just before 5:00 am on April 2. At 4:58 am, Ambulance 26 and Medic 17 were dispatched to the home for a report of an unconscious person. At some point over the next two to three minutes new information was apparently added by a 911 call-taker that CPR was being performed on the man. Once that occurred, OUC’s procedures require dispatchers to alert the responding units of this important new information and immediately dispatch the closest firefighters and an EMS supervisor. None of that occurred. Radio traffic from (below) shows Medic 17’s discovery that this was a CPR call came at about 5:11 am.


A statement from an OUC spokesperson says, “Upon investigation we discovered that there was a ten-minute delay in this incident that is directly related to FEMS dispatch not reading/delivering the update that a CPR was in progress. The OUC has a zero-tolerance policy related to performance deficiencies of this kind and we have handled this as a personnel issue.”

The man died. It’s unclear what impact, if any, the delay had on the person’s death. What is known is that DC 911’s failure to relay key information to responding DC Fire & EMS crews is a longstanding problem. Firefighters, paramedics and EMTs have complained about this issue throughout OUC’s entire 16-year history.

In January of 2005, just two months after OUC began operation, dispatchers didn’t tell firefighters responding to a deadly apartment fire that an explosion had occurred. OUC learned that information from many of the dozen or so people in the building who heard the explosion and called 911. Lt. Tony Carroll, unaware of the blast, was seriously injured when he fell more than 30-feet down an open elevator shaft. The doors to the shaft were dislodged by the explosion. Two people, including a baby, died in the explosion.

Over the last year, STATter911 documented numerous times when DC 911 didn’t relay key information. This occurs multiple time each day when dispatchers don’t notify fire and EMS their calls have been canceled. The crews eventually discover the cancellation on their own by scrolling through notes on the mobile dispatch computer while responding. Sometimes it isn’t discovered until fire and EMS arrives on the scene and spends time searching for a patient who isn’t there or doesn’t need their help.

There have also been confrontations on the radio because OUC didn’t tell fire and EMS about information they must know to effectively respond to an emergency. The recording below illustrates two occasions, two months apart, where OUC didn’t tell Engine 32 in Southeast that the address for the EMS call they were on had changed.


Despite new leadership at OUC, these longstanding issues won’t go away overnight. These are systemic problems that have occurred due to years of neglect, poor training and mismanagement. Let’s hope DC’s leaders are giving acting director Cleo Subido all of the backing and help she’ll need to bring positive change to the agency.

The relaying of important information like “CPR is in progress” is a basic function and essential to the mission of 911. Such a message falling through the cracks can be the difference between life and death. That it occurred at 5:00 am when DC 911 was handling very few calls makes you wonder just how this message got lost.

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