A June 15 article about a man who died after waiting 14 minutes for an ambulance in Fairfax County incorrectly indicated that the incident was first reported by WUSA-TV (Channel 9). It was first reported by WRC-TV (Channel 4). (Published 06/16/05).
A man having trouble breathing waited 14 minutes for an ambulance in the Alexandria area Monday morning, and Fairfax County officials said confusion over his location caused the unusually long wait for help. The man died a short time later.
No cause of death was available yesterday, and officials said it was not clear whether a rapid response would have saved the man.
The 50-year-old man, whose name was not released, apparently was stricken shortly after 8 a.m. at Waldron Inc., at 5910 Farrington Ave., just west of Van Dorn Street. The line between Alexandria and Fairfax County runs past Waldron's offices, with Waldron on the Fairfax side.
But when the first call for help came in on a 911 line at 8:03 a.m., it went to Alexandria police and fire call-takers. Jane Malik, an Alexandria fire spokeswoman, said that the call was routed incorrectly by Verizon and that officials have asked the phone company to amend its database.
While the call was being transferred to Fairfax, Malik said, the caller hung up. The Alexandria call-taker told a Fairfax call-taker about the medical emergency and assumed that Fairfax would dispatch an ambulance, Malik said.
About six minutes later, the caller phoned 911 again, and for the second time, the call went to Alexandria. Again, the dispatcher transferred the call to Fairfax. Two or three minutes later, Malik said, the Fairfax dispatcher called Alexandria and said the incident was actually in Alexandria.
"We told them that, no, it was actually in Fairfax, but it was at this point that we understood they had not dispatched the call," Malik said. "And so we went ahead and dispatched it because the most important thing was to render aid to this patient," Malik said.
An ambulance and fire engine from Firehouse 208, at 175 North Paxton St., were dispatched. Medics arrived 14 minutes after the initial call, at 8:17 a.m. Private citizens already were administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation, Malik said. Medics took over and took the patient to Alexandria Hospital, where he was pronounced dead soon after. Authorities did not know what the man was suffering from, Malik said, only that he was having difficulty breathing and was in cardiac arrest when medics arrived.
At 8:28 a.m., Malik said, a Fairfax County dispatcher called Alexandria and asked whether the city had an ambulance available. At that time, the patient had already been cared for by city medics.
Fairfax police spokeswoman Mary Ann Jennings said, "Everything we had to check it with said it was in Alexandria city." Some police officers and firefighters have complained about the county's new Altaris dispatch system having problems locating addresses, but Jennings said it did not appear to be at fault in this case.
The incident was first reported yesterday by WUSA-TV (Channel 9).
"We may have had a breakdown on our part," Jennings said. "Something didn't work as it normally should."
She acknowledged the address was in Fairfax and said that "we are very, very actively investigating what happened." Fairfax police command the dispatch center for police and firefighters in the county.
Fairfax responds to about 75 percent of medical emergency calls in six minutes or less, its most recent statistics show.
No one was available to speak for Waldron last night, a woman there said.
"The key here is, we, both Alexandria and Fairfax County, rely on the Verizon database, which is supposed to be very specific about where the call is coming from," said Barbara Gordon, a spokeswoman for Alexandria. "When the people called from Farrington Avenue, they needed and wanted help right away, and that needed to have happened."