Firefighters Sent to Wrong Address in Fatal Blaze
A 5-year-old girl was killed early yesterday when a fire tore through her family’s townhouse in Southeast Washington. The girl’s mother said she was unable to save her as she escaped through a second-floor window, authorities said.
A 911 dispatcher who received a call at 2:52 a.m. sent fire crews to the wrong address a few blocks away after the caller reported the incorrect street for the blaze, according to Carrie Brooks, a spokeswoman for Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D).
Brooks said authorities were trying to determine the exact time firefighters arrived at the correct location.
Despite the mix-up, she said, they got to the scene within five minutes of the call.
An investigation was launched by the Office of Unified Communications, which handles 911 calls, and the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.
“Right now, we are just looking into everything to see if anything could have been done,” Brooks said. “I think it’s probably impossible to know whether that extra minute or two would have” changed the outcome.
Witnesses said the scene unfolded over several minutes, with residents of the home in the 3400 block of Minnesota Avenue scurrying from the flames and neighbors yelling and trying to help. Officials said an electrical problem caused the fire.
“When I walked up, you could hear someone going, ‘Aheeeeee!,’ screaming,” said David McLean, a dump truck driver who lives across the street and knows the family. “Then a few minutes later, there was this boom. It just went boom, then it stopped. Whoever was in there screaming, it just stopped. You didn’t hear them anymore.”
Assistant Fire Chief Lawrence S. Schultz said the girl’s mother told authorities she tried to carry the child to safety on her back, but “when she jumped out of the window, she somehow lost hold of the child.”
A relative said that the mother slipped from the window.
Authorities identified the girl as Asia Sutton. Three others were injured in the fire, including the girl’s parents, who both suffered burns, authorities said. The injuries were not believed to be life-threatening.
Neighbors said the young victim often rode her bike and threw a Frisbee in the front yard, which yesterday was filled with charred furniture, sneakers and books.
Curtis Powell, a relative who once lived in the home, said she “was a really sweet girl, very open-hearted, friendly with everyone, loveable, playful.”
Some friends and neighbors questioned whether the outcome could have been altered with better communication. Engine Company 27 is 1.3 miles from the home.
“You can’t explain that, man. It was a communication breakdown,” said Carlton Kelly, a family friend.
Schultz said firefighters “responded to the location they were dispatched to.”
When the firefighters from Engine Company 27 arrived at the wrong address, a few blocks away on B Street, “they call in and say they are in the block and they don’t see anything,” Schultz said, adding that they “followed all procedures to a ‘T.’ ”
Just under five minutes after the dispatch with the incorrect information, a corrected dispatch went out, D.C. officials said.
A second engine company that would have had to pass the Minnesota Avenue fire scene on the way to the incorrect B Street location stopped when firefighters saw flames, authorities said.
Schultz called the blaze one of the worst fires he has seen in 22 years on the job and said firefighters battled it diligently.
Investigators are still determining how many calls came in to dispatchers and whether the call that came in at 2:52 a.m. was the first call received, Brooks said.
Authorities said Asia Sutton, 5, died in the fire in the 3400 block of Minnesota Avenue SE. Firefighters said an electrical problem caused the blaze.