D.C. lieutenant faces discipline for delayed response to choking boy

WASHINGTON — A lieutenant with D.C. Fire and EMS faces a departmental reprimand for not sending a crew to a report of an infant choking on a grape near the lieutenant’s station in Tenleytown.

The lieutenant, whose name has not been released, faces charges of neglect of duty, incompetence and unreasonable failure to assist the public for failing to alert dispatch that the computer system had disconnected from the network and that his paramedic crew was available.

The Bowser administration released a redacted version of the 49-page report detailing the internal investigation into the city’s response to the boy choking. In a statement, the city says that the investigation found “that human error along with technological and training issues, related to a new dispatch system, contributed to a breakdown in emergency response communications.”

Staff at the Tenleytown station were a few blocks from the one-year-old boy’s Warren Street home when the first 911 call came in the morning of March 13. But because of a computer problem, dispatchers did not know that the Tenleytown paramedics were available and instead ambulances were sent from a station farther away.

A fire truck from the same station did eventually go out on the call. After an initial attempt to help, the fire truck was told they weren’t assigned to the call and the firefighters remained at the station. They eventually arrived at the home about 12 minutes after the first 911 call.

The boy died at the hospital several days later.

The child’s death was among of series of high profile cases involving delayed ambulances or fire and EMS staff not assisting members of the public during the past several years.

Since taking office in January, Mayor Muriel Bowser has hired a new fire chief, recreated the position of assistant chief for EMS and put 10 more ambulances on the city’s streets.

Fire crews now monitor the GPS systems regularly to make sure they are connecting to the network and that dispatchers can see each apparatus’ status. Fire crews and EMS staff are also expected to jump on a call and announce on the radio that they are closer than an assigned crew.

According to the report, if an ambulance or fire truck sits in a station for too long, the GPS tracker disconnects from the dispatching system. The lieutenant facing reprimand was instructed to pull the ambulance out of the station so the computer system could reconnect.

A battalion chief likened the system to satellite radio, in an interview with investigators.

“When you go under cover, the signal will go off and doesn’t send a signal,” the chief said in the report.

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