Two Fire Dispatch Errors Cause Concern - October 16, 2009

by Patrick Rocchio

Two dispatch errors to fires in Morris Park and on City Island in one week has some calling for an investigation of the new call taking system for the Fire Department.

On Saturday, October 2, fire trucks from Ladder 41 were mistakenly dispatched to 1851 Haight Avenue instead of 1841 Lurting Avenue, where there was a fire that may have been caused by exploding batteries in a child's toy.

Two days later, fire trucks were sent a half-mile away from a fire on City Island before being redirected. Councilman Jimmy Vacca is calling on Mayor Bloomberg to launch an investigation into a new emergency response system to 911 calls called Unified Call Taking. Vacca will hold his own hearing as chairman of the Council's Fire and Criminal Justice Services Committee in November.

"Within the span of one week, we have two cases where firefighters lost precious minutes responding to an emergency because they were given the wrong address by the dispatcher," Vacca said. "Thankfully, no one was badly hurt due to the delays."

In May, the city implemented Unified Call Taking under which 911 operators directly relay reports to fire dispatchers. Previously, operators would transfer calls to an FDNY operator, who in turn would work with the fire dispatchers.

Intended to shorten response times, the system has faced some criticism. Firefighters have noticed an uptick in errors, according to sources.

A FDNY spokesman attributed the error in Morris Park to someone who was calling in the fire from several blocks away, and mistook the exact location.

"In the instance of the fire on Lurting Avenue, the call came in from someone who was quite a distance away from the fire's location," FDNY spokesman Frank Dwyer said. "The backs of the two homes touch each other. The fire trucks got to Haight Avenue and the firefighters then realized it was on Lurting."

Dwyer said that the response time to the Lurting Avenue fire, even with the error, was below the citywide average.

In the case of the City Island fire, Dwyer said that the initial call bounced off a cell tower near where fire trucks were first sent, but that the 12-second call was dropped before an exact location was received.