- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 17, 2000

Acting Washington, D.C. Fire Chief Ronnie Few acknowledged yesterday "there was some problem" with the address for a man who died of a heart attack Saturday after a dispatcher gave incorrect information to rescue personnel.

But Chief Few wouldn't back the comments of a department spokesman who said a 911 dispatcher made a typing mistake that delayed emergency personnel from getting to Willie Johnson for about 20 minutes.

"I'm not assuming a mistake was made," Chief Few said, until he reviews all the information including the 911 tapes and a timeline.

Battalion Chief Geoffrey Grambo, a spokesman for the department, has said the person reporting the problem clearly gave an address of 61 Hawaii Ave. NE, and the dispatcher repeated "61," but then punched "65" into the computer.

"It was a slip of the finger," Chief Grambo told The Washington Times yesterday.

As a result of the mistake, firefighters went two houses away from the apartment of Mr. Johnson, 65, Chief Grambo said.

Emergency personnel were on the scene for about 30 minutes before a relative of Mr. Johnson's arrived and showed them the correct apartment.

Mr. Johnson was pronounced dead at a hospital later Saturday.

Chief Few said the mistaken dispatcher is no longer on active duty.

He would not say if taking the dispatcher off duty was a disciplinary measure, and would only say he "will take action appropriately" if an investigation shows there was a mistake.

Fire Department officials also are trying to find out if the delay was fatal for Mr. Johnson, or if he died before emergency personnel would have arrived if they had the right address.

The exact sequence and timeline of the incident are not clear. Relatives in Montgomery County, Md. either called the District's non-emergency number, or else they were transferred by county 911 operators to the District's dispatch center, officials said.

Events preceding that also are not clear. The relatives became concerned after either Mr. Johnson became ill during a phone call with them, or else after they heard a message he left complaining of chest pains, officials said.

A neighbor of Mr. Johnson's told The Times yesterday that firefighters spent 30 minutes at the wrong apartment building and then took another five to 10 minutes to break down the security door at the correct building.

Mr. Johnson appeared to be dead when medics brought him out, said the man, who declined to give his name.

The man said he and Mr. Johnson were friends and went to lunch every Wednesday.

"They're talking about sanctioning this dispatcher. When a person loses his life, they should be fired," the man said.

Mr. Johnson, a cabdriver for 35 years, "would do anything for anybody if they asked," like drive them to the grocery story, the man said.

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