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Harry Carter could have run for help or called 911. He chose the phone call.
Crystal Moore-Carter was still breathing when her husband found her. Harry Carter, 44, had left his 27-year-old common-law wife sleeping in their apartment at 221 51st St. NE on the morning of July 17, while he took out the trash.
When he came back in, at approximately 11 a.m., Moore-Carter—who suffered from asthma and had a history of seizures—was sprawled on the bedroom floor, unconscious, with her eyes rolled back in her head. “The fan had fallen on top of her, and she was holding the cord,” Carter says, “but she didn’t look like she had been electrocuted.” He pulled the fan off her and saw that she was alive. Because the couple had no telephone, Carter ran to the apartment next door to call 911.
He couldn’t get an operator. “I called six times,” Carter says, “and all I got was: ‘Due to high call volume, please hold.’ I hung up.”
The Metropolitan Police Department’s goal, according to a fact sheet on its Web site, is to “answer all 9-1-1 calls within five seconds.” If that goal isn’t met, though, the same sheet advises callers who’ve been put on hold to stay on the line. Hanging up and calling back, it says, can cause “further delays in receiving service.”
Carter says he couldn’t wait. “When you have an emergency going on, you don’t have time to hold,” he says.
The Truck Company 17 firehouse was three-and-a-half blocks away, at 50 49th St. Carter considered going there on foot, rather than staying on the phone. “I thought, Can I run down there and run back?” he says. “But then I thought that by the time I got there, it might be too late.”
Carter’s next-door neighbor, Marie Thomas, urged him to try dialing 411 instead. “I called information,” Carter says, “and had to try and calm myself down to explain to the operator what was going on—that took more time—and she finally connected me to police, and they put the call through.”
According to the Fire and Emergency Medical Services (FEMS) report of the incident, the call from police dispatch concerning Carter’s emergency was received at the city’s Public Safety Communication Center (PSCC), where all fire and medical emergency calls are routed, at 11:24:30 a.m.—approximately 20 minutes after Carter’s first attempt to get through.
Despite the precious time it had taken to get through to 911, Carter felt confident that the proximity of Truck Company 17 would help make up for the lost time. FEMS records show that the call to Carter’s home was dispatched at 11:29:02 and that the Fire/EMS team arrived at 11:34:51. But it didn’t arrive at Carter’s apartment.
Neighbors say that the first fire engine to respond parked on a hill a short distance from Carter’s building—and that the crew made no discernible attempt to find the correct address. “They just stood around outside acting like it was a picnic,” says one witness, who asked not to be identified. “They don’t ever rush, but they do move faster than that.”
Neighbor Sabrina Jackson says that she, too, witnessed the responding team moving more slowly than usual. “I told them to hurry up, because [Carter] wasn’t sure if she was breathing or not,” Jackson says. “But they were just strolling, talking, joking.”
Inside, Moore-Carter had stopped breathing. Carter tried to revive her, then ducked outside to see why no one had arrived to help.
“I go out to the front porch to see what’s going on, and I see them, and I’m screaming and yelling for them to come on, but they slowly took their time walking down the hill, slowly walked into the apartment,” Carter says. “Everyone said that they were up there waiting for about 10 minutes before I came out.
“They lost time because they couldn’t find the place, but then they don’t even run to make up for it!” he continues. “I don’t understand it.”
FEMS Public Information Officer Lisa Bass says that EMS workers are struggling to keep up with a citywide increase in the number of medical emergencies. “The realities of the job have put front-line responders in a situation where they are doing more with the same resources and fewer personnel,” she says. Bass notes that there was an hourlong loss of power at the PSCC that occurred at approximately 10:10 a.m. on July 17 that could have affected Carter’s ability to get through to 911.
Bass also confirms that there was confusion about Carter’s address. “There was a need to clarify the address as 221 [51st St. NE] and not 231,” she says. “Medic 30 did request confirmation of the address, but that is different from getting lost.” Bass says that the verification process can take several minutes.
Carter also alleges that once EMS workers entered his home, they were rude. “They hit her with the defibrillator, and then one of them made some offhanded comment like, ‘Yeah—she’s already dead.’ I can’t remember exactly what it was. I thought that they should still be doing CPR, but they didn’t—they didn’t do anything.”
Bass says an investigation is under way into the details of the incident and the conduct of the team that responded to Carter’s call.
Moore-Carter was pronounced dead at Greater Southeast Hospital shortly after she arrived there. According to the FEMS report, the incident report was closed out in the system at 1:00:32 p.m.—almost an hour and a half after the first fire engine pulled up.
“We used to always joke, because of our age difference, that she’d be pushing me around in a wheelchair one day,” Carter says. “I always figured I’d be gone before her—now she’s gone.
“When the doctor came out to tell me she was gone, I didn’t believe him at first,” he continues. “I just broke down, and all I could say was, ‘Aren’t you supposed to call 911 when you’re in trouble? Aren’t they supposed to help you?’” CP