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Quincy fire dispatcher reprimanded over 911 call

Didn’t send a crew to aid woman in labor

By Nandini Jayakrishna
Globe Correspondent / August 19, 2009

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QUINCY - Fire Department officials said yesterday they would issue a written reprimand to the dispatcher who said he could not clearly hear a 911 call about a woman in labor.

A police officer and paramedics arrived within minutes and helped deliver a healthy baby early Thursday; and the woman and child were later taken to the hospital.

But the Fire Department, which is supposed to monitor emergency calls and respond to life-threatening medical cases, came under fire for not dispatching any firefighters, many of whom are trained as emergency medical technicians.

Yesterday, at a press conference, Quincy Fire Chief Joseph Barron offered a measured defense of the dispatcher and promised to improve the department’s audio system.

“It was muffled,’’ Barron said of the call. “There was an awful lot of noise in that office. Clearly, we should have responded.’’

Hector Gonzalez, 35, of Buckley Street, called 911 about 4 a.m. Thursday when his wife, Katie, went into labor on their bathroom floor.

With the help of police and paramedics, the couple’s daughter, Soledad, was born about 4:15 a.m. and is healthy, Hector Gonzalez told the Globe yesterday. The mother and daughter were transported to Brigham and Women’s Hospital soon after the birth and were discharged on Saturday.

“The city’s response was on time, and services were delivered effectively,’’ Barron said.

Though he did not identify the dispatcher, Barron said the man was a 30-year veteran with an outstanding record. A second operator on duty that morning was covering a shift for someone and will receive further training, Barron said. Officials are still investigating the handling of the call, he said.

A spokesman for Mayor Thomas Koch said once the mayor receives a report from the Fire Department, he plans to meet with the police and fire chiefs to discuss the situation.

“The mayor wants to get answers to what happened and discuss what happened with his two chiefs,’’ Christopher Walker, the mayor’s spokesman said, adding that it was too early to say what procedural changes, if any, would be in order.

Barron said this was the first time he could remember firefighters not being dispatched after a medical emergency call. Yesterday, the Gonzalezes split their time recounting the birth to reporters at their home and tending to their three daughters: Ariana, 3; Maya, 2; and the newborn Soledad.

Hector Gonzalez said the couple had planned to go to the hospital Thursday for an induced delivery. But about 2:45 a.m., Katie woke up because she felt what was probably a contraction. Before long, her water broke, and the couple knew they did not have time to go to the hospital.

“I was scared,’’ said Katie, who suffers from chronic hip pain. “I kept saying, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ . . . This is stuff you watch on TLC. You don’t think it can happen to you.’’

Hector Gonzalez, who cut the umbilical cord, said he can barely remember what went through his mind during the delivery. “I didn’t have time to think. . . . I knew I had to take care of [Katie].’’

The couple said they were surprised to hear about the controversy with the Fire Department.

“We didn’t expect [firefighters] to come. Would it have changed the outcome at all? I don’t think so,’’ Gonzalez said. “We’re not mad at them.’’

But Gonzalez said if something had gone wrong with the delivery, he probably would have blamed the department for not responding promptly. “We would’ve been the first ones screaming,’’ he said.

Nandini Jayakrishna can be reached at njayakrishna@globe.com.