After several incidents where D.C. 911 dispatchers sent firefighters and paramedics to the wrong address, changes are being made. Call takers will now get 10 times the amount of training they were given in the past.
Public safety advocate Dave Statter, who for years has been tracking the problem of D.C. Fire and EMS being sent to the wrong address, says it’s a matter of life or death.
“Very serious calls where people lost their lives,” he said. “One of them was on Oglethorpe Street last year ... The daughter said very clearly that the lived on Oglethorpe Street NE. OUC, D.C. 911, sent Fire and EMS to Oglethorpe Street NW.”
Cleo Subido, the District’s new interim director of the Office of Unified Communications (OUC), acknowledged publicly for the first time during a recent D.C. Council oversight hearing that often the first responders are sent to the wrong address because of mistakes by the 911 call takers.
“About 40% of the time, though, the problem with getting the address was on us,” she said.
Subido has now mandated increased training for new call takers, increasing the hours of geographical training for new recruits from 16 to 160 hours.
“That’s really good news,” Statter said. “I’ve been pushing this, really, for as long as OUC has been in existence.”
Subido said current call takers will be getting refresher classes this spring centered around knowing the waterways and hiking trails most popular during warm weather.
“Getting the call receivers off of the floor for a lot of training is difficult logistically in order for us to be able to keep answering the phones,” Subido said.
“It’s really needed for the veterans that have been there for a long time,” Statter said.
Subido said it’s important that the public gives accurate and complete information when calling 911 for help.
“Really giving us your entire address when we ask, and we’re always going to verify it, but it would save some time if we get the whole thing at once,” she said.
Subido also acknowledged problems with radio transmissions between first responders and dispatch when radio calls were not answered or took dangerously long wait times to answer. The Office of Unified Communications said it is committed to fixing that problem as well.