An Emergency Medical Service worker whom city officials blame for missing a 911 call that led to a four-minute delay in getting an ambulance to a child hit by an SUV insists no such call ever came over her computer screen.
City officials say “human error” by that lone dispatcher, and not glitches in the new 911 dispatch system, slowed the ambulance response after Ariel Russo, 4, was fatally struck June 4 on the upper West Side by an unlicensed teen fleeing police.
But EMS sources and internal logs obtained by the Daily News tell a different story, raising more questions about the reliability of the two-week-old system. Some say New Yorkers could be in danger.
“Unless they fix this system soon, public safety is being risked,” said Israel Miranda, president of the EMS dispatchers union.
The worker at the center of the controversy, a 23-year EMS veteran, reported to work at 6:59 a.m. that day and was assigned to handle so-called relay calls. Those are direct computer transmissions from NYPD 911 operators, one of the most important jobs in the dispatch center. According to an EMS log obtained by The News, the call about the girl being struck at W. 97th St. and Amsterdam Ave. was transmitted by a 911 operator to EMS shortly after 8:15 a.m.
Ariel, who was walking to school with her grandmother, was semiconscious at the scene, according to cops who responded and were anxiously awaiting an ambulance. She died minutes later.
At 8:19 a.m., records show, the EMS veteran logged off her computer for her scheduled break and immediately handed her computer to a replacement dispatcher. The woman being faulted is adamant that she never left her computer unattended and handed her replacement a monitor with no jobs waiting, according to people who have talked with her directly.
Sources said she was given an “admonishment” a day after the fatal accident. In a written response to supervisors, she said there was never a call on her screen about a girl getting struck. She has no previous disciplinary history on the job and has been relied upon to train others in the emergency call center, sources said.
The FDNY, headed by Commissioner Salvatore Cassano, disputes her account.
“We have confirmed the call was on her screen and she did not act upon it,” FDNY spokesman Frank Gribbon said.
But The News has learned that at least 40 EMS dispatchers and officers on duty that morning should have been able to spot the same overdue request for an ambulance. All such relay calls are posted and tracked on a giant, wall-mounted screen. They also appear on the individual computer terminals of all EMS dispatchers on duty, a veteran dispatcher said.
Once a call has gone unanswered for three minutes, the computer automatically highlights it in a bright, white light meant to be a warning.
“No way that everyone missed that job when it came over the system,” the dispatcher said.
Gribbon acknowledged a relay call “is on other dispatch screens,” but, he added, “The relay operator who failed to handle the call was assigned specifically to handle that — and all other — calls received via relay.”
That dispatcher has been “relieved of handling calls received via relay,” Gribbon said.
Miranda and other EMS dispatchers say they are being blamed for a computer system that has been nothing but trouble since it was launched. Computer messages between police, the EMS and the FDNY keep getting lost or delayed for minutes and even hours.
One dispatcher provided a cellphone photo from an EMS computer monitor over the weekend that showed two “relay” ambulance calls waiting to be answered — one for an hour and the other for 33 minutes.
“Do you think any of us would allow a call to remain on our screens for an hour without handling them?” the dispatcher asked. “These calls suddenly pop up from wherever they’ve been lost and they’re already showing a long wait time.”
The News has obtained police and EMS 911 logs for more than a dozen such calls that occurred Saturday and Sunday. All show unusual gaps in the time from when an NYPD operator registered the call to when EMS received it.
On Sunday afternoon, for example, a driver ran a stop sign at 89th St. and 103rd Ave. in Queens and struck another vehicle that was carrying three people. A 911 operator recorded the first call about the accident at 4:52 p.m. The occupants reported no one was seriously injured. EMS was not notified until 7:20 p.m., 2 1/2 hours later.
“We waited nearly three hours for the ambulance,” said one of the passengers, Johnny Agromonte.
Agromonte said his neck “was hurting a little,” but he declined to go to a hospital. Even worse, he said, “no cops showed up until 11 p.m.” to take a report. “More than four police cars just passed us during that time but they wouldn’t stop.”
All that Gribbon, the FDNY spokesman, would say about the incident was that it was listed as an “RMA,” meaning a patient refused medical attention.
As this column reported last week, Alabama-based Intergraph Corp., the company that developed the new $88 million computer dispatch system, has had similar problems with computer glitches and crashes in dispatch systems it designed for emergency responders in Nassau County and in San Jose, Calif.
Since the NYPD system, known as ICAD, was launched two weeks ago, there have been four incidents where all or part of the system crashed, requiring police operators to resort to writing down caller information on slips of paper and ferrying them by runners to dispatchers.
After spending more than $2 billion on upgrading the city’s 911 system, Mayor Michael Bloomberg should start listening to the workers who operate it. The failure to listen could cost lives.
Emblematic of the little mayor's reign of error - spend billions on something that doesn't work, then blame the failures on government workers.
We had better hope there is no major catastrophe in this city before they get this system fixed because it is clear it cannot handle it.
And since Bloomberg thinks the system "works," it looks like we have to wait until the next mayor to get that fix.
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