Within days after she acknowledged widespread failure to meet national EMS standards on dispatch times, the director of the District of Columbia’s 911 center has been forced to resign, according to a city hall spokesman.
Jennifer A. Greene, who rose through the ranks of the DC police department for more than 30 years, had served as head of the Unified Communications Center for the past five years.
Greene’s tenure in the communication center was a tough act to manage. Recently one of her greatest challenges was the matter of firefighter delays in responding to a deadly Metro tunnel fire. Another incident was one in which a medic closest to a choking toddler was not dispatched to the scene. The boy later died.
During a hearing in March, Greene faced severe criticism from D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who questioned why average city dispatch times were consistently more than a minute longer than a national standard of 90 seconds.
Greene answered no, saying the dispatch center was looking at changing its internal standard to “something more realistic to shoot for.” She said, “We just haven’t made that standard, so we need to look at it; we’ve been talking about it for over a year.”
Wanda Gattison, a spokeswoman for the 911 agency, said Greene agreed to resign Sunday night. Gattison said Christopher Geldart, Director of the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, will head the 911 center temporarily. Greene’s salary was $185,000 a year.
The 911 center had been under scrutiny since the Metro tunnel incident on January 12. That fire killed one woman and left numerous others trapped in a train as smoke filled the underground tunnel. The National Transportation Safety Board has not yet completed the investigation, and Metro and fire officials have come under scrutiny.
Firefighters reported that they were slowed on that disaster by poor radio communications and were forced to rely on personal cellphones. There has been much controversy between Metro and the District over whether underground relays, designed to boost EMS communication signal strength, were properly tested.
Greene was in charge also when the fire department implemented a new computer tablet system, to track fire engines and ambulances and improve dispatch times by sending the closest rescue teams to emergencies. The DC fire union complained about frequent system breakdowns.
District officials acknowledged in March that the dispatch system had malfunctioned since it had been installed and that response times had fallen to their worst levels in two years. The computer system often left dispatchers blind as to whether they were sending the closest vehicles to an emergency.
That acknowledgment came after a young child – who choked on grapes in his family’s Northwest Washington home – died. A Paramedic team very close-by was not dispatched, as the computer system mistakenly sent an ambulance from much further away.
Officials said that Paramedics closest to the scene had not properly logged themselves as ‘in service’, but the fire union argued that computer tablets often lost their signal as the ambulances moved around town. This caused the $13,000,000 system to send faulty information to the dispatch center.
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