The District of Columbia's fire department is investigating allegations that dispatchers failed to send an ambulance for 26 minutes following a report that a 68-year-old man was bleeding and semiconscious.
The investigaion began after a neighbor of the man wrote fire officials that the dispatchers were rude, asked needles questions and ignored repeated telephone requests for assistance.
"The call was not handled properly," said James F. Flynn, director of communications for the fire department and supervisor of both fire and ambulance dispatchers.
The dispatcher who answered the first call "had enough information. He should have sent the ambulance," Flynn said.
"When we get a call like that we usually donht question the call that severely," Flynn said later. Neighbors and one of the man's relatives said the dispatchers repeatedly inquired about the man's illness and asked whether he was drunk.
The man, Allen Carter, of 1513 Meridian Pl. NW, died at Howard University Hospital of a cerebral hemorrhage two days after the incident, but the ambulance delay probably did not contribute to his death, according to Dr. Don Woods, the hospital's chief of neurology.
The complaint about the ambulance calls, filed by Carter's neighbor, Dorothy Washington, 41, has been turned over to the fire department's threemember Disciplinary Investigation Board. The board can recommend dismissal of the charges, propose further investigation by the department's trial board, or it can recommend that the fire chief resolve the complaint.
The board also is investigating allegations that the two ambulance attendats who picked up Carter were "rude" and "had to be talked into taking the patient to the hospital," according to John Nusser, assistant acting director for ambulance services.
The incident began at about 7:15 p.m. on Jan. 19 when two police officers found Carter sitting on a curb along Benning Road NE and then brought him home at his request, said Vera Chittem, Carter's daughter, who lived with her father in an apartment at the Meridian Place address.
According to Chittem, when the police arrived, "they said he (Carter) was drunk. But I said my father isn't drunk. He hasn't taken a drink in 12 years. I knew something was wrong with him but I didn't know what." Chittem said her father had gone to the dentist that afternoon.
Chittem said she called for an ambulance and the police then left the building.When an ambulance did not arrive after several minutes, Chittem said, she called the dispatcher again. During that call, Chittem said, the dispatcher asked her "if he (Carter) was drunk. Then he hung up real short on me. I thought they were sending someone out. But they didn't and he was getting worse."
At 7:30 p.m., Dorothy Washington, Carter's neighbor, called the dispatcher to ask him "if he could hurry up the ambulance. He said he could not." Washington said the dispatcher told her he had asked the police to respond to the call.
When she called the dispatcher a second time, about 10 to 15 minutes later, Washington said she was asked, "What's wrong with the man?" Washington described the dispatcher as "very nasty."
A few minutes later, Washington's niece, Rita Ferguson, 29, called the dispatcher who also told her that police had been sent to the building. Ferguson said when she requested the dispatcher's name, he hung up the telephone.
At 8 p.m., Washington said she called the police herself. A patrolman arrived within minutes, Washington said, and telephoned an ambulance, which arrived promptly.
Fire department records show three calls were received from the Meridian Place address and that the first call was logged in at 7:35 p.m., according to communications director Flynn.
The first call was taken by dispatcher Alberto D. Barnett, 29, and the following two calls were received by Martin Turner, 45, Flynn said. According to Flynn, Turner said he did not dispatch an ambulance because he felt he was receiving conflicting reports about Carter's condition.
Statements about the incident by Turner, and the two ambulance attendants, John Avery 36, and Roberto Hernadez, 24, are now under review by the dispatcher Barnett has not yet been questioned about his response to the call, officials said.