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Injured wait as dispatch problems slow Los Angeles Fire Department

March 18, 2012 |  7:03 am

LafdWhen the machine swallowed her hand, slicing off one finger and mangling the rest, Tania Wafer's co-workers tried frantically to stop the bleeding as a supervisor dialed 911.

Hang on, they told her as she slid in and out of consciousness on the floor of the printing plant. The ambulance will come soon.

It didn't. Wafer waited nearly 45 minutes for Los Angeles Fire Department paramedics to arrive because of ongoing problems with the agency's emergency dispatch system.

The dismemberment occurred March 7, when a brief equipment failure left dispatchers unable to alert fire stations. At a firehouse in Harbor Gateway near Torrance, just a mile from the bleeding woman, the alarms never rang, according to firefighters.

"I was in horrible, horrible pain," said Wafer, 36, who was later told by a doctor that too much time had elapsed to reattach her finger.

Wafer's case is one of several recent Fire Department dispatching problems compiled by the L.A. Times. The city Fire Commission has allocated emergency funds for technical experts who are trying to fix the glitches in a system crucial to tens of thousands of emergency responses each month.

Fire Chief Brian Cummings and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa say that the city is safe and that rescuers will come when called. At a news conference last week, Cummings said the system is working properly "99% of the time." And during the March 7 system breakdown, just two calls out of 1,000 were missed and no one died in either of those cases, he said.


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-- Kate Linthicum

Photo: L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, left, and L.A. Fire Chief Brian Cummings discuss response times and deployment at a news conference last Tuesday. Credit: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times