Amid mounting concerns from residents and others over whether dispatchers had properly communicated the situation’s urgency to rescuers on the scene, city administrator Kevin Donahue confirmed authorities had received three 911 calls about the incident but said little else.
He said the three calls were made between 5:06 p.m. and 5:18 p.m., and the first two came from people who were “out of the jurisdiction.” While they referenced flooding, he said, it was unclear whether they conveyed what was happening in the day care.
At 5:18 p.m., he said, people inside the day care in the 600 block of Rhode Island Avenue NE called 911, and that information was communicated to rescuers in the field. But he said officials were still transcribing radio transmissions, and he would not say whether he believed any failures had occurred. He also declined to say when precisely rescuers arrived at District Dogs.
“To me, the call at 5:18 was clear,” he said. “The other two calls talked about flooding inside the building. What I need to know, and what’s part of the review, is what the radio traffic and conversation was after those first two calls.”
Donahue offered the information Thursday in response to a reporter’s questions at a news conference about public safety issues. D.C. Council member Zachary Parker (D-Ward 5) had previously written letters to the city’s fire department and Office of Unified Communications asking about residents’ concerns that emergency responders were delayed in responding to the day care. Officials with the fire department and the Office of Unified Communications did not respond to requests for comment Thursday about the incident.
In the three days since the flood, owners whose dogs were killed have blasted the city and the day care’s owner, asserting that more should have been done to prevent the tragedy. The business had found itself underwater after a similar storm a year ago, but city officials have said it was inspected afterward and deemed safe to operate. District Dogs said in a statement Wednesday that staff members were following emergency procedures as the glass gave way and the building flooded. The statement said the personnel rushed to “rescue dogs to the best of their ability despite the water rising above their heads.”
Donahue said emergency responders first came to the scene on their own to rescue people whose cars got stuck in rising waters on Rhode Island Avenue.
Emergency responder radio communications from that day show that at 4:57 p.m., officials with the fire department reported seeing people stuck in their vehicles at Rhode Island Avenue, according to audio pulled from the website openmhz.com, which records public safety radio. The audio was provided to The Washington Post by Dave Statter, who tracks public safety incidents in the D.C. area at statter911.com.
At 5:10 p.m., a dispatcher appeared to report a nonemergency water leak at District Dogs to the fire department’s incident command on the roadway, according to the recordings.
“The access to those buildings are all completely flooded right now. You’re going to have to hold that call for a little while until we get these rescues resolved,” a person with the fire department says in the radio recording at 5:13, later adding, “We’ll have units check it out when they get here.”
At 5:21, a dispatcher appears to tell the incident commander on the scene that there are people trapped at 680 Rhode Island Ave NE and that there is “12 feet of water inside the business.”
The incident commander responds that he will deploy firefighters to the facility, records show. At 5:28, a dispatcher tells the commander that someone is unresponsive at the day care, and the commander says a boat is on the way.
“We’ve located seven people and numerous dogs at District Dogs at 680 Rhode Island Ave NE,” the fire official says at 5:36 p.m. “We’re tending to them now.” A few minutes later, the official says rescuers have found 10 dead dogs.
Donahue said he would review what people communicated to dispatch in the initial calls they made about the incident in light of initial reports describing the flooding as a water leak.
“We generally, when an incident with great interest happens, will release transcripts,” he said. “Not the actual audio of the call, but some verbatim transcripts.”