Human error and a Fire Department dispatch system that's "unduly complicated and unacceptably flawed" delayed the response to a Queens fire in April that took the lives of two 4-year-olds, city investigators said Tuesday.
Jai'Launi Tinglin and his half-sister, Aniya Tinglin, died from smoke inhalation when a fire roared through the basement of their Far Rockaway home on Bay 30th Street on the night before Easter.
By the time EMTs arrived, it was too late. That's because it took 21 minutes for an ambulance to arrive after the initial 911 call.
According to the city's Department of Investigation, the ambulance was delayed by a "highly cumbersome" dispatching process that involved interaction between no less than seven staff members from the NYPD, the FDNY and EMS.
"DOI's investigation exposed an antiquated, unwieldy system for dispatching ambulances to the scene of an active fire that substantially increases the opportunity for human error," DOI Commissioner Mark Peters said.
"We must start to overhaul this process immediately. The Fire Department, at DOI's urging, has taken positive first steps by implementing preliminary remedies to streamline the process, but it must continue to pursue more advanced solutions. DOI will continue to monitor this process."
Fire Department officials said the April 19 blaze, which started just before midnight, was caused by children playing with matches. Their grandfather, who was asleep at the time, was able to get another child out safely, but Aniya and Jai'Launi didn't make it.
The first 911 call was received at 11:51 p.m., but ambulances didn't arrive until 12:12 a.m., 21 minutes later, officials said.
"I was here," said Estella Jackson Bernard, the victims' great-grandmother. "I saw those firemen save the babies. They laid them here on the lawn, then they all started yelling, 'EMT, ambulance! Any ambulance people here!' "
Jackson said when the EMTs finally arrived, firefighters had to hurry them along.
"Run, don't f--king walk," she heard them say. "It was smoke inhalation. They could have been saved."
Under the current system, a 911 operator records the location of the emergency and then asks the nature of the emergency before adding a fire or medical call taker to the conference if necessary.
A new pilot program, set to start in January, would have the operator ask, "What is the emergency?" - and then conference in the fire or medical call takers before the location is recorded.
That change would help determine the benefit of conferencing in other operators early in the call flow and help dispatch ambulances more quickly, officials said.
"I hope this change makes it so no more babies die out on the lawn," Bernard said.
Additional reporting by Shawn Cohen
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