DC Fire Dispatchers Who Mishandled 911 Calls Not Retrained As Promised

The DC Fire Department says it has new procedures to handle cell phone calls after a fire in Maryland last month killed a mother and her two children. But 9 News has learned that little has been done to retrain or discipline two dispatchers who...


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The DC Fire Department says it has new procedures to handle cell phone calls after a fire in Maryland last month killed a mother and her two children.

But 9 News has learned that little has been done to retrain or discipline two dispatchers who officials admit failed to quickly relay important information to Prince George's County.

When the Chillum home caught fire on February 3rd, the first two callers to 911 used cell phones. The cell phone signal was picked up by a tower more than a mile away in DC and the calls were answered at the District's 911 Center. Unlike calls from your home phone, no information shows up on the dispatcher's screen giving the location of the emergency. This led to some initial confusion when the first call was answered.

Department spokesman Alan Etter says dispatchers will now make clear to cell phone callers that they have reached DC 911.

But the fire department admits this was more than a technological problem. The larger delay in getting help to Maria Romero and her two children came from mistakes by the two call takers. One failed to relay vital information to Prince George's County, and the second kept the caller on the line for three minutes assuming wrongly that Prince George's County had been properly notified.

Last month the DC Fire Department said the dispatchers would be retrained. Sources tell 9 News that the two were never relieved of duties or sent out for retraining and instead were only briefly counseled. Contrast this to the fatal Dupont Circle fire in January when DC police dispatchers failed to answer 911 calls. This resulted in a two minute delay. Police Chief Charles Ramsey says he intends to fire seven police call takers.

The charge in the Dupont Circle case is a very serious one that the 911 workers abandoned their posts. In the Chillum fire it is a case of two veteran dispatchers doing a poor job of performing their duties.

After calls from 9 News, Acting Fire Chief Adrian Thompson has ordered the two dispatchers on the Chillum call to be retrained. Spokesman Etter says Chief Thompson was surprised this had not already occurred. Thompson has ordered the pair to be relieved of their duties and sent for a week of intensive retraining. Other than retraining, Thompson does not believe any punitive action is needed for the mistakes made in this case.

Prince George's firefighters pulled Maria Romero and her children from the burning home but were unable to revive them.