Report on delayed response to choking toddler reveals firefighters came up with workarounds to fix

The father of a toddler who died after choking on grapes said he is pleased to see the District moving forward on the investigation, but is profoundly saddened by what has happened.

A new report on the delayed response faults a D.C. fire lieutenant for neglect of duty, but it also reveals major problems with a malfunctioning dispatch system and what fire officials were doing about it.

Eighteen-month-old Martin Cuesta died after waiting eleven minutes for help to arrive on March 13. His family is out of the country, but told their attorney they have mixed emotions about the release of the report and still have many questions.

Why was help right around the corner but never sent? It turns out the new technology designed to prevent just that was giving fire officials fits and it is all revealed in the report.

In late 2014, the Office of Unified Communications had new technology installed in all of the fire department vehicles.

Officially, they are known as Getac tablets and are designed to keep track of all of the units in the city with GPS. But there were problems. The tablets would become disconnected and the 911 center would then lose track of ambulances, trucks and engines.

So fire officials came up with workarounds -- pulling fire equipment out of the firehouses.

According to the report, it "was a normal thing that would happen in order to restore connectivity."

It also said, "The GPS system will lose its connectivity if the units are inside the firehouse…"

The report also mentions Captain James Patridge saying "that he did know of problems with the … Tablets and when asked if the problems had hampered (emergency) responses he said that it had."

But according to another official, there were "no written policies or guidelines" on how to deal with units that had become disconnected from the system.

"It is wholly inexcusable that this kind of neglect can persist in an emergency response system when lives are at stake," said Cuesta's family attorney, Salvatore Zambri.

The report said Engine 20 and Ambulance 20 were just three blocks from the toddler's house, but had become disconnected and 911 dispatchers didn't know they were there.

"We are grateful this report is out and more is going to be done, but it is heart wrenching for them to know that their child was the victim of this incompetence," said Zambri.

The official in charge of rolling out the new technology has since resigned. Also, according to the firefighters union and city officials, the performance of the tablets has greatly improved since March.

The lieutenant in charge of Engine 20 that day is facing disciplinary action -- in part -- because he knew there was an emergency with a child choking, but did not go on the call because they weren't dispatched, according to the report.

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