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Response to Deadly Northeast DC House Fire May Have Been Delayed

“When seconds count, we don’t have minutes,” said the president of D.C. Firefighters Association Local 36. 

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A fire broke out at about 4 a.m. Wednesday in a home on Monroe Street NE. By the time D.C. Fire & EMS arrived, flames were pouring out of the windows. 

A man, who was not immediately identified, was found on the second floor of the house in the 1500 block of Monroe Street NE. His pet dog also died. 

“This was a very fast-moving, very hot fire,” Deputy Fire Chief Mitchell Kannry said. 

Dispatch records obtained by News4 say the first 911 call came at 4:01 a.m. But the 911 call center did not dispatch the fire department until 4:09 a.m., eight minutes later. 

That wasn’t the only delay, said Dabney Hudson, president of D.C. Firefighters Association Local 36. 

“Our units knew there was someone inside the house, and yet they had to stage. They had to park blocks away and wait for a battalion chief to arrive and tell them how to perform the jobs they knew how to do and should have been doing while they were parked,” he said. 

Hudson is referring to a policy the fire department implemented two years ago that requires most arriving units to stop and wait two blocks from a scene until they receive orders from command staff to proceed. 

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The dispatch reports indicate that by 4:11 a.m., dispatchers and firefighters knew there was someone inside the house. 

Still, the rescue team was not sent in until 4:23 a.m., almost seven minutes after they arrived. 

“When seconds count, we don’t have minutes,” Hudson said. 

Fire Chief John Donnelly was on the scene this afternoon as firefighters went door to door to remind residents about smoke detectors and fire safety. He would not take questions about the fire response. 

A fire department official who spoke with News4 did not dispute the timeline but said there were about 30 firefighters inside the house within minutes of arriving. They were fighting the fire and also were trained to look for victims. 

But Hudson said the firefighters inside were tasked with putting out the fire, not specifically with looking for victims. He expressed his sympathy to the victim of the blaze. 

“He wasn’t given the best chance that he should have had for survival,” Hudson said. 

The cause of the fire was not immediately determined but a preliminary investigation indicates it likely was accidental. 

News4 reached out to the 911 call center about the apparent delay in dispatching units. They did not immediately respond to inquiries. 

Stay with NBC Washington for more details on this developing story.

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