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Four dispatchers suspended after Far Rock fire: FDNY

By Sarina Trangle

The FDNY said it suspended four staffers at the Queens dispatching center after a preliminary investigation found they mishandled calls during a fatal Far Rockaway fire.

The city Department of Investigation began reviewing the FDNY Queens Center of Operations, where dispatchers work, after questions arose about delays in sending ambulances to a basement blaze in Far Rockaway April 19.

The flames claimed the lives of two 4-year-olds staying at their grandfather’s house, the Police Department said.

During the first 72 hours of their probe, investigators found that two of the six people working at the Queens Center of Operations were not in their seats just before the emergency arose.

Firefighters reported there was an active fire to dispatchers at 11:57 p.m., but the first call to EMS from the Queens Center of Operations did not go out until about seven minutes later, at 12:04 a.m., according to a memo DOI Commissioner Mark Peters sent to Mayor Bill de Blasio and FDNY Commissioner Salvatore Cassano April 25.

“The supervising fire alarm dispatcher both failed to ensure proper coverage and failed to appropriately supervise the response by the three fire alarm dispatchers who were working on the response,” Peters wrote. “Each of these three [fire alarm dispatchers] either failed to properly notify EMS when required or failed to take steps that would have prompted/facilitated such notification.”

Peters wrote that preliminary personnel records show the four have previously bungled responses and failed to comply with department guidelines.

He recommended that the city immediately remove the dispatchers and supervisor from their day-to-day duties while the investigation continues.

The FDNY said it responded by suspending the employees for 30 days without pay.

Peters said investigators believe FDNY’s training for dispatcher supervisors does not comply with state and industry standards and that the Queens Center of Operations has a history of “operational weakness.”

The FDNY agreed to review personnel records at the Queens Center of Operations and place any staff with call-related disciplinary histories on administrative assignment pending further investigation, according to the memo.

The department also pledged to examine its training protocols and ensure they comply with state and industry protocols, Peters wrote.

City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), chairwoman of the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services, reiterated her call for the FDNY to change its protocol and dispatch EMS and firefighters immediately after a call is received.

Dispatchers currently ‘wait for FDNY to confirm the flames before an ambulance is sent.

“Lives are always at risk when a fire occurs, whether it’s a person trapped in the building or an emergency responder doing their job,” Crowley said in a statement. “The fact remains that EMS should have been dispatched immediately after the initial call was placed.”

Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at [email protected].

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