911 fails to send nearest help to choking toddler

 Questions are being raised about the time it took to get help to a toddler who stopped breathing after choking on some grapes.

A D.C. Fire and EMS paramedic was just three blocks away in a station on Wisconsin Avenue in Northwest but was never put on the call.

That toddler is now in intensive care and fighting for his life.

A timeline of events obtained by FOX 5 shows it took more than seven minutes to get help to the little boy who went into cardiac arrest after choking on the fruit.

It happened last Friday morning at a home on Warren Street in Northwest, just three blocks from the Tenleytown fire station where a paramedic was stationed and on-duty. Although the reasons are still unclear, the error may have had something to do with new technology firefighters have been complaining about for months.

According to the boy's father, his 9-year-old daughter dialed 911 as soon as the child began to choke but no one picked up. A house guest, he says, got through to 911 at 8:33 and asked for help.

But according to a timeline obtained by FOX 5, instead of Engine 20 with a paramedic on board and in the station three blocks away, 911 sent help from a station on Connecticut Avenue more than a mile away.

According to the timeline:

  • First call was received at 8:40:38 a.m.
  • Engine 31 arrived at 8:47:39
  • Truck 12 arrived at 8:48:34
  • Medic 31 arrived at 8:48:50
  • Engine 20 was never dispatched.

The toddler was taken to Georgetown University Hospital where his father told us Monday the child is in intensive care and not doing well. He never regained consciousness.

Back in February we talked with Ed Smith, the president of the Firefighters Union, about new technology used to keep track of trucks, engines and ambulances. It was installed late last year and has been an on-going source of frustration for firefighters who say it doesn't work as designed.

"We were part of a working dispatch group at (the Office of Unified Communications) and we voiced out concerns at the time this was a recipe for disaster," said Smith, "(and) It is a disaster yeah."

Smith is talking about the tablets now installed in all units and fed by Wi-Fi hotspots.

"The whole point of that system is to be able to locate the closest available unit to respond to that emergency," said Smith, "That's the biggest benefit of having this system."

A source familiar with the investigation says firefighters with Engine 20 heard the call go out and wondered why they were not being dispatched. They were then told to re-boot their tablet in the rig so the GPS system could locate them again.

The new system was installed late last year and is maintained by the Office of Unified Communications, otherwise known as the 911 center.

A spokesman for the Office of Unified Communications says only one call came from the house that day and three others from elsewhere. As for why Engine 20 wasn't dispatched? OUC says "the Office of Unified Communications sent the closest unit available that was logged on with a paramedic."

So on the surface, without another explanation, it appears as if dispatchers may not have known Engine 20 was in the station and ready to go when the toddler first needed help.

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