- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The deputy mayor who oversees the District’s 911 emergency call center said yesterday that dispatcher errors are a “huge problem” but are few and far between.

“The number of calls that we’ve identified any problems with are a handful at most,” said Edward D. Reiskin, the deputy mayor for public safety and justice. “That said, any mistake can be a life-threatening mistake, so it’s very serious.”

The Washington Times reported Monday that a Northwest woman who had been beaten and robbed near the Georgia Avenue-Petworth Metro station was forced to wait for assistance because dispatchers had sent police to the wrong quadrant of the city.

The Times has filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the Office of Unified Communications and with the Metropolitan Police Department to obtain a recording or a transcript of the woman’s 911 call.

Mr. Reiskin said an investigation into another incident, involving firefighters at a blaze Oct. 10 in the 1300 block of Kenilworth Avenue Northeast, is not complete.

Fire officials said preliminary findings show that a propane tank had exploded and injured three firefighters before the on-scene commander called for an evacuation of the building, contrary to what firefighters on the scene told The Times for an Oct. 13 report.

The deputy mayor said he meets regularly with representatives of the police and fire departments and with E. Michael Latessa, interim director of the Office of Unified Communications, and that they address errors and complaints.

Mr. Reiskin said the agency fields about 140,000 calls per month and that more than 90 percent of calls are answered within five seconds.

Fire Chief Adrian H. Thompson said he attributes the spate of mistakes to “growing pains” within the year-old agency, where dispatchers are being trained to respond to police and fire calls, instead of one or the other.

The fire department also is investigating an incident that occurred Sept. 18.

Vytas Maginnis, 22, was in a soccer match at St. John’s College High School in Northwest when he landed face first after trying to jump and hit the ball with his head.

His mother, Joan Maginnis, was at the match and called 911. She said she told a dispatcher that her son was faint, nauseous and bleeding heavily from his head and that others were walking him around so that he didn’t lose consciousness.

She said she told the dispatcher that she was on the soccer field at St. John’s College High School in Northwest, but the dispatcher repeatedly asked her for a street address.

“How in the world was I supposed to find the address of this huge school? I was outside on a soccer field. What was I supposed to do?” Mrs. Maginnis said. “We were going round and round to the point I was almost screaming at her.”

Mrs. Maginnis said another person at the match had a paper with the address of the school and she was able to provide it to the dispatcher.

According to fire department records obtained by The Times, Mrs. Maginnis’ call was placed at 6:27 p.m., and a fire engine arrived on the scene less than seven minutes later.

However, an ambulance was not dispatched until 6:58 p.m. and did not arrive on the scene until 7:09 p.m. — 42 minutes after the 911 call had been placed.

The call was marked a “head injury” and included the words “possible dangerous,” but it was dispatched as a “Bravo” call, the third of four levels of severity.

Mrs. Maginnis said her son was transported to Georgetown University Hospital, where he underwent surgery. He is expected to make a full recovery.

Fire department spokesman Alan Etter said the District has a long-standing agreement with the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad to call for assistance on medical calls in Upper Northwest if no ambulance is available in the District.

Nothing in the event chronology indicates that the dispatcher tried to contact the rescue squad.

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