DC mayor faces scrutiny over 911 delays during fatal flooding at doggy day care

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser would not say – despite being asked multiple times –  whether mistakes were made by the city’s 911 call center the day catastrophic flooding killed 10 dogs and trapped employees at a Northeast D.C. doggy day care business last week.

The Mayor’s Office of Unified Communications director noted mishaps – but stopped short of saying mistakes were made after revealing a nearly 30–minute gap from when the first 911 call was made to District Dogs on Monday, Aug.14 to when employees trapped inside were reached by first responders.

When asked about her response to Monday's news conference held by the OUC and D.C. Fire and EMS Chief John Donnelly and whether errors occurred, the mayor told those in the room she is in preliminary review of the fatal flooding. 

She talked about call takers having more context of an area that’s been prone to flooding since the late 1800s, according to D.C. Water.

Mayor Bowser mentioned better training and better tools and said the city possibly needs to prepare more for indoor water rescues because of climate change. 


Timeline reveals delay in response to deadly District Dogs flood

D.C. leaders are just now responding to demands for answers about what happened when District Dogs flooded last week.

FOX 5 brought up how public safety advocate Dave Statter and local news outlets have been reporting on OUC errors for years, and asked the mayor what it’s going to take for the city to admit that a mistake was made and that serious public safety issues need to be addressed.

"I think I just responded to that question," Bowser told FOX 5, "and I told you my assessment right now is preliminary … I think knowledge of different places in the city make for better responses, and some of those, we can’t always – we should never rely on one person’s memories. The tools should support that. So, what I’m saying is 'if we know last year we had several feet of flooding in that location ... We also had firefighters on the scene immediately, self-dispatch because they saw it. We had call takers get calls about a business because it flooded last year, so that’s context and that’s important. Those are opportunities we have to build on."

"I think it’s pretty clear that it was a mistake and my job is trying to get to the bottom of things and help work to address it. I am focusing now on continuing our legislation," said Ward 5 Councilmember Zachary Parker. "I am focused now on continuing our investigation and making sure we advance legislation. But again, I think it’s pretty clear there was a mistake — a big one that cost the life of people’s animals and very well could’ve cost the life of D.C. residents."

Parker told FOX 5 he’s looking at raising legislation when the council returns that would require OUC to release transcripts and important information when there are emergencies. He said he’s also meeting with the families affected, and different city agencies and looking at how to possibly increase financial incentives to work for the city’s 911 call center.

"I don’t even know how to describe the feelings that I felt. Rage, disgust. Renewed heartbreak. It’s just retraumatizing us all over again to know how many times we were failed," said ANC Commissioner Colleen Costello, who lost her family’s pet Maple in the flooding.

On Tuesday, the manager of the Northeast doggy day care told FOX 5 via text, that she and her partner thought the OUC director’s response on Monday was a slap in the face when transcripts later revealed the first 911 call noted a wall broke, the whole building was underwater, and they knew people were in danger.

Chloe Flowers sent FOX 5 a message on Tuesday saying, "As a whole, the conference was a big slap in the face not only to the dogs but to the people inside. Last Wednesday I believe it was reported that there was a lack of urgency from the first callers. My partner and I were the first callers, and it left me second-guessing myself. Did I not do enough? Was I not clear enough? But seeing the transcripts released reveals that information and urgency was provided. "It’s flooding horribly" and "people are in danger" are very obvious statements of distress and urgency. When the cameras cut out, I feared that was the last time I’d ever see those folks alive. Ask anyone who worked with me directly and they’ll tell you the advocacy and care for my team is huge. That’s why it hurt when  it was reported that the sense of urgency wasn’t enough. Now I’m seeing my words clearly, even down to where the humans and animals were inside the building were communicated and where the storefront was located. The cameras were off and destroyed, and I was making my way down to help as a volunteer and not a district dogs entity as I was on leave. I was in survival mode from there so I have very little recollection of the events in the immediate aftermath aside from the obvious trauma of seeing my workplace destroyed and identifying the beautiful souls that were lost. I couldn’t let my team suffer more trauma, so I took that task on myself."

It was revealed, in the Monday news conference, that there was a nearly 30-minute gap between when the first 911 call was made at around 5:06 p.m. Aug. 14 – and around 5:35 p.m. when a 911 caller inside the building informed the call taker that first responders had entered the flooded business.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser also told reporters she is going over flood emergency plans with her emergency management team and that her team reached out to District Dogs owner Jacob Hensley, offering support.

A frustrated Costello told FOX 5 the mayor had not yet reached out to affected families over a week later. She shared a letter with FOX 5 that we’re told has been sent to the mayor, OUC Director Heather McGaffin, and the Department of Buildings acting director, calling for a meeting with the officials on behalf of the 10 families impacted by the deaths.

"While we appreciate your concern for Mr. Hensley’s (undoubtedly well-insured) financial interest, we are dismayed that since this tragedy occurred nine days ago, neither you nor any other official within your administration has reached out to us directly, let alone solicited a meeting to ascertain how you can "be helpful" to the constituents who lost something no insurance policy can replace – or family members," the letter reads. "We have numerous concerns about the events that precipitated the untimely, gruesome, and preventable deaths of our animals, and which threatened the lives, health, and safety of 28 other souls inside District Dogs on August 14 – six staff members, one client and 21 dogs that survived."