Four Fire Dispatchers Suspended After Fatal Rockaway Fire, Officials Say

By Katie Honan and Murray Weiss  on April 25, 2014 5:45pm  | Updated on April 25, 2014 6:14pm

 Investigators believe the fire started in the basement where the two 4-year-old siblings were.
Investigators believe the fire started in the basement where the two 4-year-old siblings were.
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DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

FAR ROCKAWAY — The FDNY has suspended four fire dispatchers — including some who had prior disciplinary issues — after an initial investigation found major failings in their response to an April 19 blaze that killed 4-year-old half-siblings Jai'Launi and Aniya Tinglin, according to authorities.

The Department of Investigation is currently conducting a full probe but have already obtained information that requires "immediate action" to temporarily remove a supervisor and three dispatchers, some who had previous issues, according to an April 25 memo from the DOI and FDNY to the mayor's office.

A "comprehensive and immediate" review will also be conducted of the entire Queens dispatch center, the memo said.

The scathing letter also slammed the FDNY's training of supervising fire alarm dispatchers and described a "history of operational weakness" at the Queens dispatch station.

According to the memo, the dispatchers repeatedly failed to notify EMS and a fire chief as they are supposed to do when a confirmed fire is called in, leading to an approximately 7-minute delay in sending ambulances to the scene of the blaze on Bay 30th Street.

And over the course of the three-day investigation, officials found that two of the six people at the borough's Center of Operations were not in their assigned positions before the fire.

The troubling series of events began when the fire at the home on Bay 30th, near Bessemund Avenue was called in at 11:51 p.m. on April 19, according to the FDNY.

Firefighters arrived on scene within five minutes of the call, and they made "multiple calls" to dispatch between 11:58 p.m. and 12:04 a.m., investigators found.

However, the first notification to EMS was not made until 12:04 a.m., nearly seven minutes later, according to investigators. EMS union officials said ambulances were dispatched at 12:06 a.m. and arrived at 12:12, some 21 minutes after the fire was first called in.

Dispatchers missed at least two other instances requiring notification to EMS, the investigation found.

The FDNY has suspended the supervisor and three dispatchers for the maximum period of 30 days without pay, a spokesman said.

Some of the dispatchers had prior disciplinary issues including documented instances of "mishandling of fire incidents and a prior incident of failure to supervise," according to the memo.

It's not clear how many of the employees had previous issues or received prior disciplinary action.

The investigation found that the fire department is currently not compliant with state and industry standards for training supervising dispatchers.

"Evidence indicates that the Supervising FAD, and the three FADs responsible for handling this and other incidents that day all failed to comply with FDNY's Processing Calls Guidelines and the notification requirements in varying degrees," the memo said.

It also found that the Queens Center of Operations has a history of "operational weakness," the memo said.

DOI promised that there will also be a "comprehensive and immediate review of supervisor training protocols," according to the memo.

Mayor Bill de Blasio called the disciplinary actions taken "appropriate."

“We await the final results of the completed investigation, and stand ready to quickly and aggressively implement reforms needed to prevent something like this from happening again,” the mayor said.

Ayina and Jai'Launi, who were staying with relatives on the eve of Easter Sunday, were rushed to St. John's Hospital where they were pronounced dead, officials said.

Jai'Launi's twin sister was also taken to St. John's Hospital in stable condition. A 55-year-old woman and 63-year-old man were also rescued from the home and are both in stable condition, according to the NYPD.

A witness described the chaotic scene as FDNY members screamed over their radios for medics to get there.

"'EMS we can't do this alone. Where is EMS?'" Megan Maloney, 19,  said she overheard firefighters say while they performed CPR on the children in front of the home. 

Mayor de Blasio called the delay "unacceptable" and called for an investigation into the response.

“I do know, we all know, something went wrong. We’ve got to know why it went wrong. We’ve got to know how to fix it going forward. It’s not acceptable,” he said earlier this week.

A fund was created to help pay for services for the toddlers, which will take place in Rockaway on Monday.

The Uniformed Fire Alarm Dispatchers Benevolent Association, the union representing the FDNY employees, did not immediately respond to a call for comment.

Additional reporting by Colby Hamilton.

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