St. Mary’s probes 911 breakdown
Guy requests information from employees after infant boy died
The St. Mary’s County commissioners said Tuesday that an investigation into a communications failure last week at the emergency dispatch center continues, and solicited information under the county’s whistleblower policy.
“There was a mess-up. I’ve got to admit … where the chiefs were not notified. Why? I don’t know,” Randy Guy (R), president of the county commissioners, said. “We need to get information out to the public that’s correct, and not jump to conclusions within hours or days.”
Emergency services “is a very important function” for the community, he said. “But we can’t solve the problem if it doesn’t come from the bottom up. If you don’t feel you’re getting the support,” an employee can go to the county administrator or president of the commissioners, Guy said.
“We have a whistleblower policy in our county that we will take any informa-
tion and work it, and there will be no recourse against you or anyone else,” he said.
There was a breakdown at the St. Mary’s 911 center in Leonardtown in the early-morning hours of Tuesday, Oct. 24. The St. Mary’s County Department of Emergency Services and Technology learned of an issue after a 4:15 a.m. radio communication from a deputy.
“Immediately we transitioned to our portable backup radios and were able to communicate with all field units,” an Oct. 26 statement from the department said. The deputy director and a radio tech were contacted and “test pages were performed which confirmed an issue with paging,” according to the statement.
At 6:35 a.m. on Oct. 24, the
911 center received a call for an unresponsive two-week-old infant in Lexington Park who was not breathing. The alerts were broadcasted at 6:36 a.m. to Bay District Volunteer Fire Department, to the Lexington Park Volunteer Rescue Squad and to the Advanced Life Support Unit, according to the department of emergency services and technology.
The St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office and Maryland State Police were also dispatched. The sheriff’s office was on the scene of the call at 6:43 a.m. at the same time as the Bay District Volunteer Fire Department, whose members began CPR on the boy, but the baby did not survive.
Several volunteer first responders were critical of the communications problem last week. “We were never notified that the system was down,” Shawn Davidson, chief of the Lexington Park Volunteer Rescue Squad, said. “You can’t answer a call that you don’t know exists.”
Commissioner Mike Hewitt (R) on Tuesday called the death of the infant “a terrible tragedy in this county.” He added, “People need to understand that they can trust county government. They can trust our emergency services to be able to respond efficiently and on time.”
There has been “confusion” and “consternation” about the emergency communications system, Hewitt said. “This commissioner, Mike Hewitt, is committed to a top-down review, a top-to-bottom review of what is going on with our communications. It is unacceptable that something goes down and not all the stakeholders are notified. Something’s wrong,” he said.
Commissioner John O’Connor (R), a member of the Advanced Life Support Unit, has asked for an independent investigation of the matter, but Hewitt said he’d like to see the county’s internal investigation run its course.
O’Connor said, “A top-down review is absolutely something we need to do. We need to have trust in our communications,” and noted the first-responder chiefs in the audience of the commissioners meeting on Tuesday.
“I support anything we can do to rebuild the gap that we have,” he said.
Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) said, “I recognize there are issues out there. We will get to the bottom of this situation at the end of the day.”
Guy said, “We’re still in the gathering mode” about the radio failure. He said he knows there are concerns in the first-responder community, and they are frustrated there isn’t more information.
“We’ve already addressed our management problem,” Guy said. “We’ve already talked about that. We’ve gone through timelines. We’ve gone through emails,” he said.
A console went down, he said, but the emergency services and technology team responded within 30 minutes and the system “was more or less up” by 7:15 a.m. that morning, he said.
“I have great confidence in the people out there that responded to the backup system,” Guy said.