NY Times - December 20, 2013by J. DAVID GOODMAN and JOSEPH GOLDSTEIN
A 4-year-old girl, struck by a sport utility vehicle fleeing the police, lay motionless on a sidewalk on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Immediately, radio calls from officers at the scene cascaded with increasing urgency to 911 dispatchers.
“I need you to rush a bus 97th and Amsterdam!” one officer shouted, referring to an ambulance. “Get me a bus, there is a little girl unconscious!” came another transmission. Then: “Where’s the bus?”
The emergency medical dispatcher responsible for the incoming job was at her seat in Brooklyn. But for four minutes — from 8:15 until 8:19 a.m. — it sat unheeded on her screen, according to a report on the response by the city Department of Investigation, released Thursday, that found “human error” caused the delay.
For months, the episode had been the subject of public wrangling between the Fire Department, which is responsible for the dispatchers, and the unions representing them, who blamed recent technological upgrades.
But in what city officials described as vindication, the 42-page report found no computer errors on June 4, the day of the deadly crash that killed the 4-year-old, Ariel Russo, and injured her grandmother. Officials had expressed frustration that, after a pair of 911 system failures in May, a $2 billion project to upgrade aging components of the system had been linked to the crash. “It confirms what the department said immediately after the tragic accident,” Francis X. Gribbon, a Fire Department spokesman, said.
The report does not assert that the delay affected the girl’s chances of surviving the crash.
Separately, the report addressed four failures of the 911 system, those in May and two more in June, finding that each related to discrete hardware failures. The report recommended improving procedures, staffing and hardware to help prevent similar lapses in the future.
But its focus was on a nearly second-by-second reconstruction of the timeline of the crash, both on the street and at the dispatching center, using radio calls, witness testimony, subpoenaed cellphone records and video.
Before the crash, the dispatcher, Edna Pringle, made five cellphone calls from the start of her shift at 7 a.m. until 8:08 a.m. The report described the calls, forbidden during dispatchers’ shifts, as “stunningly inappropriate.”
But Ms. Pringle was not on her phone after the crash and insisted to investigators that the job data did not appear on the screen. “We don’t have any reason to disbelieve our dispatcher,” said Robert A. Ungar, a spokesman for the union that represents Ms. Pringle, a veteran of more than 10 years. Her cellphone calls, which resulted in a disciplinary warning from the Fire Department after the crash, were “irrelevant,” he said.
At 8:17, a firefighter on his way to work stopped to assist the police officers who were already at the scene. Three minutes later, officers flagged down a passing ambulance. Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, the call appeared on numerous screens, including that of Ms. Pringle’s direct supervisor, the report said; the supervisor said he had missed it because he was doing paperwork. Ms. Pringle took a break at 8:19, the report said. Her replacement, seeing the pending job, began processing it seconds later.
Just after 8:23, the report said, the first vehicle dispatched by 911 — a fire truck — arrived at the scene. Less than a minute later, a critical-care ambulance came. Ariel was soon pronounced dead at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center.
Sanford A. Rubenstein, who is representing the Russo family in a lawsuit against the city, said his case would now focus on the dispatcher. “Was she negligent?” he said. “If so, the city is responsible for the negligent acts of its employees.”
The whole of the response, even with the delay, came in under the Fire Department’s average critical response time of 9 minutes, 22 seconds, the report said. As for the dispatchers, it said: “New Yorkers need their undivided attention.”