Mom recalls tragedy, HFD's response mix up

November 1, 2011 2:42:55 PM PDT
We told you on Friday about an investigation into a new policy within the Houston Fire Department meant to improve emergency response. But one family says because of that policy they couldn't get an ambulance to their dying girl.

It's a situation most parents can't imagine -- a tragic accident when time is of the essence and a mother essentially begging for an ambulance says that's not what arrived. She told us she feels that what happened to them during a family tragedy needs to be talked about.

"I said, as calmly as I could, 'I just ran over my baby, I need an ambulance right away.' And the man on the dispatch says, 'OK, so do you need fire, police or an ambulance,' and I said, 'I need an ambulance.' 'OK let me connect you,'" Olinda Woodruff said.

It was a call to a 911 that was frustrating for Woodruff. She had just accidentally backed over her four-year-old daughter Rebecca. After explaining her emergency, she was transferred to another call taker, where she had to explain everything for the second time.

"Same thing, and at the end of it, she says, 'Do you need fire, police or ambulance?'" Woodruff recalled. "I think at that point was the point I broke down and said, 'I need ambulance. I ran over my baby. I need an ambulance to get here right now.'"

It happened a week and a half ago, and despite explaining what she needed, the first unit to arrive was only a fire truck.

"I was wondering why there was firemen and I saw another car out of the corner of my eye and I thought, 'Oh good, it's the ambulance,' and no, it was a police officer," she said.

So as firefighters did what they could to further stabilize Rebecca, still they had no ambulance.

"They couldn't call the ambulance until they came out and assessed the situation, and meanwhile, there is all this time being wasted," Woodruff said.

It's a story that has one Houston city councilman asking questions.

"This was a tragic, horrific accident; it touches all of our hearts and I am determined to bring to light what caused this accident, how the fire department reacted and where the equipment was," Houston City Councilman Mike Sullivan said.

And it has a recent change in dispatch protocol called 'All-Hazards Response' under the microscope.

"If they are all in the station, the first one to go is the ambulance. If the ambulance is out, then we send the engine. If they are both out, then we send the ladder to that closest call. The whole idea of the concept is to get a firefighter with EMT skills on the scene as soon as possible," Houston Fire Department Chief Terry Garrison said.

But Garrison says that protocol is only used on low-level calls and says the department has launched an official investigation in the October 21 call and he wants to know if the initial response appropriate.

"The best possible situation was send an ambulance when I asked for one," Woodruff said. "I knew she was hurt. She was bleeding everywhere."

The questions will always be there...

"I really, truly believe that by the time there was somebody that could help her, it was too late," Woodruff said.

Rebecca did pass away from her injuries.

According to the fire department, since implementing the new protocol, response times have decreased by 6 percent or about 24 seconds. However, Sullivan has called for an investigation into how emergency units were dispatched.

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