FDNY firefighters exposed to meningitis due to wrong patient info in 911 system
At least four New York firefighters and a supervisor sought medical attention after some of them were exposed to bodily fluids from a woman who had bacterial meningitis, sources told the Daily News. The snafu was caused by an NYPD dispatcher who put incorrect information about the patient into the 911 system.
By Ginger Adams Otis / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Tuesday, July 16, 2013,
On July 6, the first firefighters on the scene lost one minute and 41 seconds when they were sent to an incorrect address for a Brooklyn, N.Y., fire — leaving two preschoolers clinging to life. The delay was due to an incorrect address given by the 911 caller.
The health scare prompted at least four firefighters and a supervisor to seek medical attention after some of them were exposed to the woman’s bodily fluids at the home in Forest Hills on June 13, sources told the Daily News.
The snafu was caused by an NYPD dispatcher who put incorrect information into the 911 system. The error generated a ticket that popped up just after 6 p.m. at Engine 305 that said “burns.”
A fire in Brooklyn, N.Y., on July 6 resulted in Dasani Rich, 3, and Rolando Rich, 4, being taken to the hospital after firefighters were delayed for more than 1 1/2 minutes because of an incorrect address given by the 911 caller. Pictured are Dashawna Smith, top left; Tarnesha Rich, center; Darnell Smith, top right; Rolondo Rich, bottom left; and Dasani Rich, bottom right.
It was quickly updated to “serious/inside” when the 911 caller — who was not with the patient — gave a few more specifics, the FDNY said.
But to the firefighters, the ticket was read as a woman with serious burns inside, union sources said.
The dispatcher was given additional training, fire officials said. And none of the firefighters involved in the call — which was to a house on Burns St. — contracted the highly contagious and potentially deadly disease. But the mistake still put the firefighters in unnecessary danger, the fire officers union said.
Staffing is critically low among New York City dispatchers handling emergency medical calls — forcing the FDNY to impose mandatory overtime and pull operators from one shift to cover others, the Daily News reported in May.
“These members went home to their families that night, which not only put them at risk, but others as well,” said Jim McGowan, of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association. “[Firefighters] are always prepared to respond to any call, and depending on what is on the ticket, the officer will … take the proper precautions.”
New York City fire unions have been making allegations of error-prone dispatching since 2009, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration put primary control of 911 calls in the NYPD’s hands, minimizing the role of EMS and FDNY dispatchers over their objections. City Hall has said the unions’ opposition stems from a desire to protect members’ jobs.
Since the city switched to a new computer-aided dispatch system, known as ICAD, on May 29, the problems have only gotten worse, the firefighters union says — claiming the number of incomplete or erroneous 911 tickets jumped sharply.
New York City’s Department of Investigation will look into what caused delayed emergency response to the car crash that may have killed 4-year-old Ariel Russo.
The fire union says it has collected about 200 such reports from officers and firefighters in the past six weeks alone as overworked NYPD operators struggle to master the new system.
“If we don’t have proper information, how do we know what we’re going into? The details on the tickets are critical to getting the best response possible and keeping firefighters, fire officers and the public safe,” McGowan said.
Union officials and FDNY sources confirmed several other incidents in which firefighters were delayed getting to emergencies or sent minimal information in the first critical moments:
l On July 6, the first firefighters on the scene lost one minute and 41 seconds when they were sent to an incorrect address for a Brooklyn fire. Two kids, Dasani Rich, 3, and Rolando Rich, 4, were clinging to life. The delay was due to an incorrect address given by the 911 caller. The error was discovered within 18 seconds — after the call was transferred to a fire dispatcher.
l The Bravest raced to a call on the same date after getting a ticket for a person in cardiac arrest in Brooklyn just after 1 p.m. It turned out to be an emotionally disturbed person with a gun threatening suicide.
l On Friday, there was a five-minute delay getting firefighters to the Bronx house of Ramon Velez, whose wife, Ketty Lamarche, died in the early-morning blaze. Velez and two others were seriously injured. The NYPD said the 911 caller didn’t know the correct address and the operator didn’t conference in a fire alarm dispatcher. The incident is under investigation.
l Firefighters raced to another call that same date at Macy’s flagship midtown store for a loading dock fire. According to union sources, that 911 call came in around 5:15 p.m., but fire engines weren’t sent for five minutes. City officials haven’t responded to requests for comment.
Emails obtained early this monthby the Daily News show that high-ranking officials knew the extent of the problems with the $88 million system very early on — just days after the system was launched and before 4-year-old Ariel Russo died.
Fire Department spokesman Frank Gribbon said fewer than 1% of the approximately 250,000 emergency calls this year have generated writeups.
“This indicates we don’t have any problems more than 99% of the time. Many of the error reports, such as ‘wrong addresses,’ turn out to be the result of wrong information from callers, and not the result of human error by dispatchers,” Gribbon said.
Still, fire officials acknowledge they don’t get all the complaint reports submitted to the union.
New York City’s Department of Investigation launched a probe — the same day a Daily News editorial called for clear answers — into what caused a four-minute delay in dispatching an ambulance to a wreck last month that killed little Ariel Russo.
Firefighters are also in constant contact with dispatchers via radio to get up-to-date information while responding to rapidly changing emergencies, Gribbon said, as in the July 6 cardiac arrest that became a possible gunshot suicide. Firefighters were updated by NYPD when they arrived on the scene, he said.
The fire victim who turned out to be suffering from bacterial meningitis was initially coded incorrectly using ICAD’s drop-down menu, the FDNY said.
The correct coding of calls using the ICAD menu has been addressed with NYPD as a training issue, the FDNY said.
Another incident — a June 28 car crash at 10:30 p.m. that turned out to be in Nassau County, not in Queens — was also sent to the NYPD for additional training.