Because dispatchers did not act immediately after being notified, D.C. firefighters took at least 30 minutes to arrive at an Amtrak electrical substation where a man was seriously burned May 26, a department spokesman said yesterday.

The spokesman, Capt. Ted Holmes, said several dispatchers had been placed on administrative leave without pay because of the incident. He said the dispatchers, who were not identified, took at least three calls asking the fire department to investigate what was happening at the substation before sending help.

When firefighters did arrive, they found Wendell Edmondson, 36, hanging from a high beam in the substation, his clothes apparently burned off by the facility's 13,000 volts of electricity. He was rescued after dangling from the beam for about two hours.

Edmondson, who is homeless, was taken to Washington Hospital Center where he remained in critical condition yesterday.

The day after the incident, fire department officials criticized Amtrak for not immediately responding when asked to turn off the substation's electricity. Holmes said fire officials discovered the dispatching delay while investigating whether their department's employees had followed proper procedure that night.

If dispatchers had immediately sent firefighters to the scene, Holmes said, "We could have started the process {of calling Amtrak} then. We could have moved things up some." He said he didn't know whether the delay had had an impact on Edmondson's condition: "I have no way of knowing. I'm not a doctor."

The spokesman said he didn't know why dispatchers were slow to send firefighters to the scene. "We're still trying to determine what broke down in the system," he said.

One fire department source said the dispatchers may have thought the incident was a false alarm or that calls asking the fire department to investigate were coming from "kids having some fun."

The source said that two of the dispatchers involved have been in the department two years and another has served at least 15 years and is "probably one of the best dispatchers there is."