Human Error Blamed in Ambulance Delay for Girl, Dispatcher May Have Been Distracted: Report

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The city's Department of Investigation says human error, and no technical issue, is to blame for the four-minute delay in sending an ambulance to help a 4-year-old girl hit by an SUV on the Upper West Side in June. Pei-Sze Cheng reports. (Published Friday, Dec 20, 2013)

    The city's Department of Investigation says human error, and no technical issue, is to blame for the four-minute delay in sending an ambulance to help a 4-year-old girl hit by an SUV on the Upper West Side in June.

    The report released Thursday confirms what the FDNY initially said about the delay in the days after Ariel Russo was hit and killed, but goes further in suggesting that a dispatcher was distracted, possibly by her cell phone, in the minutes before the call came in.

    SUV Hits, Kills 4-Year-Old Girl on UWS

    [NY] SUV Hits, Kills 4-Year-Old Girl on UWS
    Police say a teen driving his parent's SUV without a license jumped the curb on an Upper West Side street while fleeing police, killing the girl and injuring her grandmother. Ida Siegal reports. (Published Tuesday, Jun 4, 2013)

    Ariel and her 55-year-old grandmother were walking to school when they were struck near 97th Street and Amsterdam Avenue by a 17-year-old unlicensed driver fleeing from police

    At the time, fire officials said a dispatcher received the emergency call after the crash, but claims she didn't see it immediately on her screen and left the terminal for a break. 

    A different operator logged in to replace her during her break, saw the call and dispatched the ambulance. By that point, four minutes had passed since the crash — and police at the scene had radioed 911 several times in an effort to get the little girl medical help.

    The DOI report confirms the FDNY's account, but adds some details about what the dispatcher was doing that morning.

    The dispatcher who claims she didn't see the Ariel call used her cell phone for five calls during her shift, which is not allowed. Investigators say her phone records show no cell phone calls during the Ariel emergency, although her final call was about seven minutes before the Ariel call came in.

    She had initially denied to investigators that she used her phone at all that morning, but later admitted to it. DOI said. She said all the calls were with her son, and were not urgent.

    She also denied being distracted and insisted she never saw the call on her screen. 

    DOI reconstructed the emergency call scenario and interviewed witnesses working at the time and concluded that there was no technical issue that prevented the call from showing on the screen.

    Her "assertion that the Ariel call 'was not there' and/or she didn't see it is belied by the weight of the evidence," the report said. The dispatcher's "claim that the call 'was not there' is inexplicable."

    DOI also says that even though the dispatcher was not on her phone at the time of the delay, "being on a cell phone is a violation of EMS policy and is an obvious distraction when the job is to be focused on emergency matters so that New Yorkers in need can receive the appropriate medical or fire-related resources."

    Despite the delay, though, the report notes that Ariel did get medical treatment within two minutes of being struck.

    She was first tended to by police officers who had been chasing the suspect, and a firefighter who saw the accident -- all of whom told investigators that the girl's condition was extremely grave when they reached her. While those rescuers were waiting for an ambulance, another one heading to a different emergency was flagged down to help her.

    The dispatched ambulance arrived eight minutes after the first calls for help; the report notes that eight minutes is still less than the FDNY's 9-minute average.

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