Confusion in DC 911 center leads to another delayed response to fire in the District

- 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.

"Anytime the incident commander calls for resources and needs them, he doesn't want to hear that – sorry, we will get them when we can,” said District of Columbia Firefighters Association President Dabney Hudson. “He needs them when he needs them and there is no excuse that they shouldn’t be dispatched immediately.”

One person was treated and released on the scene at the Staples Street fire.

The Office of Unified Communications said in a statement:

OUC processed a call for a fire on Staples Street, which was originally dispatched as a box alarm for a location that could not be specifically determined by the caller. The call taker, upon getting more information from the caller, downgraded the event to a double local alarm. When OUC was notified that now a working fire dispatch was being requested, the upgrade was made from the downgraded call, which caused the confusion.

The bottom line, because of the downgrade and subsequent upgrade, there was actually more fire suppression equipment available for this incident than what was originally called for. The fire liaison officer was able to work with our dispatcher in manually assigning the extra equipment requested on the working fire dispatch.

On Tuesday, the Office of Unified Communications admitted there were problems when its computers froze during a four-alarm fire on Peabody Street on June 24. At a fire on U Street on July 1, it took ten minutes to sound a second alarm due to "operator error."

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