Fire­fight­ers Sent to Wrong Ad­dress in Fa­tal Blaze

The Washington Post Sunday - - Obituaries - By Michael Laris

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.

BY JAHI CHIKWENDIU — THE WASH­ING­TON POST

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.

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