Failure to Communicate; Boston Police Officers Left Hanging After 43 Minute Wait To Get an Ambulance

As previously reported yesterday, Boston Police with assistance from multiple different Local, State and Federal Agencies conducted numerous sweeps across the Boston Area where multiple violent criminals as well as firearms were found. During one of these raids, on Blue Ledge Drive in Roslindale, one of the suspects began showing signs of an asthma attack. This was following the suspects attempted escape from custody, not just once but twice, in one instance attempting to leap out of the rear of the transport wagon head first.

Immediately when the suspect began showing signs of respiratory distress, Boston Police Officers leapt into action, stopping the transport, and coming to the man’s aid. The same man moments before had violently attempted to escape and fight these officers, however without hesitation they came to the man’s aid. They loosened tight clothing, assisted him into a position to ease his breathing and immediately called for Boston EMS. They even located an inhaler and were able to help him administer his medication, keeping him breathing and stable enough to survive the wait for an ambulance. 

Now this is where it gets sticky. From the start, there were multiple failures of communication. Officers struggled to raise their dispatcher for almost a full 3 minutes. They eventually get a hold of the dispatcher and he confirms had heard their request. Our images that were taken on scene and timestamped show Officers approximately 06:10 hours when they radioed for an ambulance. After repeated attempts to contact operations, they were finally able to confirm an ambulance was requested five minutes into the incident. For the next half hour, Officers would continue to ask for EMS desperately trying to get the man medical attention. 

Boston EMS has publicly touted their average 6-minute response time often, however in this case, it was more than 7 times that long. According to recordings of Boston Police Radio and Boston EMS Radio transmissions, posted in full below, Boston EMS operations were delayed not only in the original dispatching of an ambulance but they also went to that unit to the wrong location. When Boston EMS dispatched the first ambulance, it was sent to the local police station. In the recordings you can hear the EMS Dispatcher say that she is “assuming” bringing even further questions to the professionalism and oversight of the communications center as a whole. Was this assumption made by the Police or EMS dispatcher, and why was this not confirmed. Again at this time we are unsure of the exact place in the process where the communication failure occurred however it is undeniable that it was a factor in this incident.

When the ambulance arrived at the police station a short while later, the EMTs were informed by Officers at the base that they were in-fact needed on Blue Ledge Drive, the location that had originally been requested. When the ambulance on scene relayed this information to their dispatcher, stating that they would head straight over, rather than contact a supervisor or contact Police Operations to confirm, the decision was made carte-blanche by the dispatcher to redirect the unit to another call, ultimately leaving the officers hanging. This again raises the question of where was the supervisor who should have been actively overseeing the operations center as well as making decisions such as these. 

As the young man continued to struggle to breath, Officers continued to request EMS, even going as far as asking if there was another ambulance company available in the area to come to their assistance, something almost unheard for police to do in the city. Approximately 43 minutes after the first radio transmission from Police the Boston EMS ambulance arrived on scene. It should be noted that an EMS Supervisor arrived approximately a minute and a half prior to the ambulance. Additionally Boston EMS should not be held responsible for the communications failures at the beginning of the incident. With that said, the events that unfolded during this call for help are disturbing, a police dispatcher nowhere to be found, an EMS dispatcher who seemed disinterested, unprofessional and possibly even unwilling to help as well as the general lack of supervision that allowed this situation to escalate. 

We spoke with a number of experts in both radio communications and EMS operations yesterday as we investigated this incident and unanimously they agreed that this situation was poorly handled, avoidable, with one even going as far as calling it a total and complete failure by the Boston communications center. They pointed out a number of issues that stood out which included the seeming lack of supervision of the dispatchers, the unwilling or even negligence to follow up even after being informed by EMTs of the correct address, and finally the overall failure to communicate between the two communications centers, which are just located feet apart from each other.

We reached out to Boston Police for comment and they quickly responded, confirming that they had requested EMS for the man and waited for the ambulance. They also confirmed that he was back in their custody following a stay at a local area hospital. They were unable to provide any further information. When we reached out to Boston EMS for comment, we encountered a different story.

The Boston EMS Deputy Chief of Staff  told us that they had, “…a 10 minute response for Boston EMS,” something we know to be a completely inaccurate statement. When we pushed back, stating that we had tapes of the radio transmissions and that it showed a total of a 43 minute wait, The representative told us they would have matter “looked into further.” When directly asked if they believed something was mishandled by them or Police, or if this was a serious incident that warranted an internal investigation, we received no response. Additionally, our questions relating to the oversight and management of the center, the possibility of corrective action being taken, and that if this was an isolated incident were met with no reply. 

There are two things that should be taken away from this incident as a lesson. Recognizing the actions of the Police Officers on scene, the same ones who were adversaries of the young man minutes before, jumped into action without hesitation, going above the expectations and helped save this man’s life. Also it should allow us to take a minute and find accountability in the shortfalls that allowed this situation to spiral into the disaster it became. God forbid this man had stopped breathing or had further fallen ill. God forbid the original call to the Police dispatcher was for an Officer shot. A tragic death that could have been a result would, could and should be completely avoidable. It was just by mere luck that this was not the case. These failures need to be addressed, fixed and never repeated and we should all hope that they are done so quickly and with public accountability. To be clear this is not an attack on anyone, just a call to action, a hope that we can learn from this incident as a City and make sure it never happens again. As a whole we eagerly await the findings of what we hope is a transparent review of this matter and will share them with you once we have more information.