Technology meant to speed up D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services response times frequently breaks, leaving emergency workers to get all their information over radios, according to a 32-year veteran of the city fire department.
“We have a lot of breakdowns with the system on a daily basis,” Battalion Fire Chief William Baltimore said Wednesday at a D.C. Council Judiciary Committee oversight hearing.
When the 911 call center receives a call, the dispatcher uses a Getac tablet to send information to fire and EMS trucks about the emergency, its location and the people involved.
Chief Baltimore said the tablets often break down in the field, forcing emergency personnel to rely on their radios to communicate vital information during emergencies.
“You get a run, and it doesn’t show up on the tablet,” he said. “The run is supposed to come over the tablet with all the information and notes. Sometimes information comes through the tablet 10 minutes after you need it.”
The fire chief said the problems extend beyond dispatches: When the tablets fail, emergency units must leave their assigned routes and take the devices to the Public Safety Communications Center on McMillan Drive in Northwest for repairs.
“There are units going out of service all the time for the tablets,” Chief Baltimore said. “With those tablets going out of service, it affects the safety of the citizens. Either get rid of the system or correct what we have now.”
But Teddy Kavaleri, chief technology officer for the Office of Unified Communications, said there are no problems with the Getac tablets.
“All major technical issues have been fixed,” Mr. Kavaleri told the committee.
He said his office now is focused on addressing minor problems that arise each day because the technology is only about a year old.
“That’s to be expected with new technology,” he said.
Mr. Kavaleri denied that trucks often need to be taken off the streets to fix broken devices. When a tablet breaks, technicians try to repair it in the field and bring it to the Public Safety Communications Center as a last resort.
“Any time we bring these units in, we’re doing it in consultation with fire liaison,” Mr. Kavaleri said.
Every device brought in for repair generates a service ticket. Records show a rate of about 300 tickets a month for tablet repairs. About 130 tablets are in use on any given day.
Mr. Kavaleri said the number of tickets is reasonable for the work conditions the tablets endure.
“They’re in a harsh environment 24/7,” he said. “They’re not sitting in an office. We expect issues with these devices.”
The Office of Unified Communications is assessing the tickets to determine any common problems such as connectivity issues at specific stations.