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Four months after an 18-month-old boy died following a delayed response from city paramedics, Mayor Muriel Bowser yesterday announced reforms to the District’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department and Office of Unified Communications, as well as disciplinary charges against a fire lieutenant.
The reforms include new leadership at both city agencies, software updates, hourly monitoring of network connectivity, and a policy requiring FEMS to deploy units closest to emergency calls. They come after an “internal investigation found that human error along with technological and training issues contributed to a breakdown in emergency response communications” during the March 13 incident in Tenleytown, according to a press release from the mayor’s office.
Paramedics arrived on scene 11 minutes after OUC received a call about a child in distress that morning. A redacted version of the subsequent incident report reveals that OUC did not recognize the nearest FEMS unit to the choking boy’s home, and that a FEMS lieutenant failed to alert OUC of his team’s availability. The lieutenant, whose name has not been made public in accordance with District personnel policy, is facing disciplinary action from a trial board for “neglect of duty,” “incompetence,” and “unreasonable failure to give assistance to the public.”
“My top priority is the safety and wellbeing of our residents,” Bowser said. “I will hold my agencies accountable for following through and delivering for residents and visitors.”
The incident report finds that the unnamed FEMS lieutenant “was not knowledgeable in some aspects of his assignment, failed to understand some of the responsibilities associated with his position, and did not react appropriately when presented with additional information concerning the event.” The emergency vehicles closest to the toddler’s house were just a few blocks away from it, while the closest paramedic unit firefighters’ computers saw was more than a mile away. Based on the report, the lieutenant in question did not appear to know how to track non-moving units using GPS technology, or when to instruct emergency-vehicle drivers to reboot their tracking systems, called Getac Tablets.
“Man you know I told that guy when they came up with these Getac Tablets; you realize man y’all going to kill some people,” the lieutenant said on a phone call with an emergency-liaison officer about 15 minutes after the incident happened. “It don’t make no sense for me to track that shit all the time,” he added, according to audio files.
In March, Bowser officials told the D.C. Council there were connectivity issues with the tablets, a problem that has been rectified by OUC, according to yesterday’s release.
“We are working around the clock to ensure our FEMS emergency response services work for the District of Columbia and our residents,” said FEMS Chief Gregory Dean, who was appointed at the beginning of May.
Dean and Chris Geldart, director of D.C.’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, led the investigation. As part of the leadership reforms, Juliette Saussy—former head of New Orleans’s emergency medical services—will be the District’s new FEMS Medical Director.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery