Preschooler's death sparks HFD response system probe

November 4, 2011 7:55:35 AM PDT
Three months after the Houston Fire Department implemented a new policy, there is an investigation into whether the changes may have slowed down response time when a preschooler's life was on the line.

Late this summer, a new program was implemented within the fire department called All Hazards Response. When 911 calls come in, a civilian call taker a series of questions to determine what to send to the scene -- a fire truck, an ambulance or both.

Last week, a serious accident occurred in Kingwood and while a fire truck was sent, an ambulance stayed on standby. Now, one councilman is calling for an investigation.

It's was described as on of the toughest calls firefighters have made all year -- a Kingwood mother accidently backing over her four-year-old daughter in the driveway -- but only a fire truck initially responded, no ambulance.

It's all part of a new system put in place dubbed All Hazards Response.

"The system is flawed in that you are sending that you are sending the wrong resources in the wrong order," Houston City Councilman Mike Sullivan said.

The system was implemented on August 1 by Fire Chief Terry Garrison. The idea is to allow more fire department apparatus to respond to more calls and, some say, reduce times.

But Sullivan says response times don't matter if the correct resources aren't sent first.

"In my opinion, and in past history of the Houston Fire Department requires what you call send the cavalry. You are going to send ambulance, you're going to send fire trucks, you're going to send everybody to get there and the supervisor will get there as quickly as possible to try to save this life," Sullivan said.

"It's not as automatic that an ambulance gets sent on an EMS call like before," said Professional Houston Firefighters Association President Jeff Caynon.

Caynon has already fielded complaints from firefighters who say, at some point, a life could be lost.

"The complaint is when people call for an ambulance, they ought to get an ambulance. Now the numbers don't neccassarily support that line of thinking but that is the way we did it, and so that's what people are comfortable with," Caynon said.

Councilman Sullivan has asked the fire chief's office for dispatch tapes, off-channel communication, as well as arrival times on the Kingwood accident and hopes changes are made to the sytem.

"We are dispatching the wrong peices of equipment in the wrong sequence. Ambulances are actually sitting in the house while we have potentially life-threatening calls going on," Sullivan said.

The fire department's administration confirms that a formal investigation is underway. The four-year-old did die in the accident, but it's not clear that an ambulance would have saved her life.

Also, no one is questioning firefighters' actions but this new program that they are now forced to work within.

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