DCFD: “Show the Kind of Commitment”

Train Wreck

dcfems.jpg (128×152)

First, a correction.

I wrote yesterday, “Engine 20 was apparently dispatched after all, then cancelled and failed to take in the incident even when they knew they were closer.”

I was relying on Post coverage and I was wrong.

As readers pointed out, neither Engine 20 nor Ambulance 20 were ever dispatched.

They did, however, fail to take in the incident even when they knew they were closer.

(They heard the call and Truck 12 being dispatched as a first responder unit from their house.)

The officer of Engine 20 was notified by his paramedic that “the incident was in fact one for which they should respond.”

The report also states, “that Lieutenant [redacted] by his own admission, would not have responded to the assignment at Warren Street even if he had known the address was only three blocks away because he felt that if he was not dispatched he could not respond to a call for service.”

One of the five issues cited as the cause of a delayed response was:

“The failure of Lieutenant [redacted] to be familiar with his assigned first due area and the street that ran beside his firehouse and his unwillingness to respond to an incident he was not dispatched on led to Paramedic Engine 20 failing to respond to Warren St., NW.”

The Office of Unified Communications (OUC) and ineffective information technology systems clearly played a major role in the tragedy but the report also makes it clear that the knowledge of system problems is not a mitigating circumstance but rather a requirement to be more vigilant.

OUC (should we just go ahead and add an “H” at the end?) apparently took 3 minutes and 26 seconds to process the call, all but ensuring a train wreck.

But, like a train wreck, there are usually multiple causes and failing to act on them all is a recipe for a repeat.

The technical system may be seriously flawed but at the point of contact, firefighters, and fire companies, can have a dramatic impact.

Not responding when reason dictates is evidence of serious dysfunction.

The failings and shortcomings of DC OUC are hardly new and, in fact, are evidence that the pointy end of the spear, line fire companies, should have been working to mitigate those negative effects on the street.

Ask Questions Later

In a healthy and responsible system, whatever the technical glitches may be, if you become aware of a life threatening emergency and you believe you can be first to intervene, you go.

By the way, how can a company officer be allowed complete discretion to enter a burning building but not to take in a call for a life-threatening medical emergency?

This incident indisputably proves that troops on the street can, in some instances, have a better read on who can get there, and who should go, than OUC does.

That’s not chaos, it’s proactively protecting the public.

Under a Dark Cloud

DCFD has a terrible reputation and it doesn’t begin with the Mills case.

The Rosenbaum incident put DC on the map of shame.

Then it was Stephanie Stephens, a two-year-old who died.

Court papers stated, “a three-person paramedic team entered the house with only a stethoscope and stayed for about 10 minutes.”

She was not transported.

(Dr. Joseph Wright of Children’s Hospital said, “It was only a matter of time before a pediatric Rosenbaum case surfaced.”)

Then Durand Ford, Sr., who according to Fox, died while he “ waited at least 30 minutes for an ambulance on a night when a hundred firefighters and civilian EMS personnel called in sick on New Year’s Eve.”

Then Cedric Mills who died across from Engine 26.

In fact, it’s so bad that council members are given to making strong statements to DCFD members.  Tommy Wells said, “I understand also that if you want to work for city government, especially in emergency services, you have to show the kind of commitment that we expect as an employer, as a city and as residents of this great city.”

It was a general statement addressing  a general problem: the unavoidable conclusion that a choking child or a heart attack victim can be effectively viewed in a firehouse as, “not my problem.”

DC residents have yet to process what happened to Cedric Mills, and now this.

How else to explain it but that there is a lack of a sense of engagement or obligation?

Hope Springs Eternal

No district resident should be under the allusion that things will change much, if at all.

However, this latest case has resulted in “several reforms and policy changes.”

“They include requiring firefighters and paramedics to announce whether they are closest to a call, even if they have not been dispatched to that call…”

What a novel idea.


The full report: http://fems.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/fems/publication/attachments/Final-Investigation-Report-Final%20Endorsement-CS-15-0010_Redacted.pdf


  • Victoria Huckenpahler says:

    They have clearly been sticking to the letter of the law, and not its spirit. Disillusioning, not to say shocking.

  • Dave Statter says:

    Eric, have you ever read the inspector general’s report on Durand Ford? The report said the staffing shortage was not a rank and file issue but a problem with management. Also, did you notice that EMS 5 was not staffed during the Cuesta call?

    • Eric Lamar says:

      And those are your questions and comments after reading that report?

      DCFD is glad you save your (selective) outrage for Fairfax officials.

      BTW, I agree with you on Fairfax.

  • Dave Statter says:

    I have no problem giving DCFD hell when they deserve it Eric. That lieutenant needs attention based on what is written in that report. I urge you to listen to the interview with the interim head of OUC, Chris Geldart, by Mark Segraves today. He excuses the delay in sending the Cuesta call to dispatch in a timely manner because of a fear of discipline if they didn’t go all the way through EMD before dispatch. There will be no discipline of the call taker. Yet the fear of the lieutenant that he might be disciplined if he bids on a call or goes on it without being dispatched is a potential firing offense. My point is not to excuse the lieutenant but to be realistic on what this is. It’s a potential problem employee. The problems at OUC with the tablets and the training of the people are systemic and where the focus should be. This will save lives more than anything else and it became secondary in the coverage, the report and, to some extent, what officials were saying. That’s my point. There are still major issues on DCFD end, but this case failed before it got to the lieutenant. OUC is much more broken than DCFD.

  • Dave Statter says:

    Not selective outrage. Just making sure my outrage is focused on where the real problems are. The lieutenant is a personnel issue. The OUC problems are systemic. This call failed before the lieutenant ever knew about it. Now, in the Rhode Island Avenue, NE case the situation was reversed. My focus then was on the people in that firehouse. That call failed because of them. The secondary issue was OUC. I am just judging these things based on the facts of the cases. In both cases I criticized the reports from the city because they missed the key issues. On Rhode Island the report never mentioned that the rookie didn’t sound the house bells immediately. If he had done that we would never have heard about the case. In the Warren Street case the report never mentions the call handling time. If OUC had done its job, starting with the installation and follow-up on the tablets, to prompt call handling to sending the right units, we would never have heard of this case either. I think I am pretty consistent Eric.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *