The D.C. fire department has told four dispatchers they will be fired because of what the department says was an inadequate response to a May 26 incident in which a man was severely burned at an Amtrak electrical substation.
Capt. Ted Holmes, fire department spokesman, said the dispatchers received letters yesterday from Deputy Chief Philip Matthews, director of communications. Holmes said the dispatchers have the option of appealing their terminations before Fire Chief Ray Alfred.
The dispatchers, who were not identified, were placed on administrative leave last week after fire officials said they ignored several calls from people saying that a man was stuck in the Amtrak electrical substation on South Capitol Street in Southeast. The lead dispatcher apparently thought someone was making a false call, fire department sources said.
As a result, firefighters and ambulance workers didn't arrive on the scene until at least 30 minutes after dispatchers received the first call.
Wendell Edmondson, 36, dangled from a high beam in the substation for more than two hours. District officials charged that Amtrak officials in Philadelphia didn't immediately respond to calls from the D.C. fire department to have the substation's electricity turned off. Edmondson was taken to Washington Hospital Center, where he remains in serious condition.
After the incident, the fire department launched an investigation to determine whether its employees had acted correctly. During the investigation, they discovered that dispatchers had received at least three calls before sending firefighters to the substation.
One of the dispatchers who received a termination letter is believed to be a veteran of the fire department and one of its best dispatchers, sources said.
Two of the other dispatchers have been in the department two or three years, and have faced several charges of negligence, sources said. Holmes said that "similar incidents" to the Amtrak case contributed to the decision to fire those two dispatchers.
Over the past three years, the department's communications unit has come under criticism several times for not dispatching ambulances to correct addresses or for sending them late.