NEW YORK (AP) — Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday that "it's not acceptable" that ambulances took more than 10 minutes to respond to a fire that killed two small children.
The blaze, which was sparked when a child was playing with fire, broke out late Saturday night at a home in Far Rockaway, Queens. The first call to 911 came at 11:51 p.m. According to fire officials, an ambulance should have been dispatched at 11:57 p.m. when the fire was confirmed, but the first ambulance wasn't sent out until 12:05 a.m. Sunday.
"I am very, very concerned," de Blasio told reporters at an impromptu press conference near City Hall. "And if we have to make some changes, we'll make some changes because when we do this work we have to know that each and every time the ambulance will get there as quickly as humanly possible."
De Blasio said it was unclear if a faster response could have saved the children, but he promised the inquiry launched by Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano into the events would be quick.
Aniya Tinglin and her half brother, Jai'Launi Tinglin, were each 4. Their 4-year-old sister, 63-year-old grandfather and a 55-year-old woman survived the blaze.
Fire officials say a bed on which the children's grandfather was sleeping caught fire just before 11:50 p.m. Saturday. The first call to 911 came from a neighbor.
According to FDNY protocol, ambulances are not immediately dispatched to a report of a fire until firefighters confirm the call is valid. The first FDNY truck arrived at 11:56 p.m. Saturday and confirmed the fire a minute later, Cassano told reporters Monday.
"An ambulance should be dispatched at that time," Cassano said. "It wasn't, and we're looking at why."
Once the ambulance was dispatched, it took about seven minutes to reach the scene, the average response time for an ambulance for a life-threatening emergency in February, the last full month for which statistics are available.
When firefighters typically call to confirm a fire, they inform a department dispatcher at the 911 call center. The dispatcher then alerts the emergency medical dispatcher, who in turn sends an ambulance.
Fire officials say it isn't immediately clear where in the chain of events mistakes were made. They also didn't know if the error was human or an inefficiency in the protocol for dispatching emergency vehicles. De Blasio frequently criticized the 911 dispatching system in his previous position as public advocate.
"(The 911 system) is something we have to monitor all the time. Every day we have to work on response time," de Blasio said Tuesday. "We all know something went wrong. We have to know why it went wrong. We have to know how to fix it going forward. It's not acceptable."
Cassano, a longtime firefighter and FDNY officer, is a holdover from the previous administration, serving as commissioner since 2010. He is serving on an interim basis and, while he has petitioned to stay in the post, de Blasio has said he will eventually be replaced.