In March 2014 a fire claimed the lives of four people in Jersey City (NJ), and the fire response was delayed because of an address mix-up. An occupant of the home on fire dialed 911 and gave the answering police dispatcher "27 Grant Avenue."
The call taker then transferred the call to the fire department’s separate comm center, where the caller may have said "27 Grand Street"—it’s difficult to tell on the logging tape. Police units correctly went to Grant St. while fire units went to Grand St. Fire units discovered the mistake about 7 minutes after the first 911 call and arrived shortly after.
A police dispatcher who got the initial call for the fatal Grant Avenue fire had the correct address, but the caller was switched to a Fire Department dispatcher and in a panic, gave the wrong street in reporting the blaze, according to recordings released today.
The recordings of 911 calls and various dispatch transmissions resulted in firefighters being sent to the wrong address -- Grand Street instead of Grant Avenue -- were played today to the press and the family members of the four people who succumbed to the flames.
“How events unfolded could not have been more unfortunate despite the fact that people followed protocol,” Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop said before playing the frantic 911 calls.
Four people -- a church leader, his wife and two of their sons -- died in the March 6 4-alarm blaze on Grant Avenue and it was disclosed later that day that firefighters were initially erroneously dispatched to a Grand Street address.
Seven minutes after the initial 911 call, at 1:10 a.m., a firefighter tells a dispatcher "We're in the area, however there is no 27 Grand." Fourteen seconds later, the same firefighter tells the dispatcher to "send someone to 27 Grant."
Fulop and Public Safety Director James Shea said the initial caller dialed 911 and spoke to the police 911 operator saying the fire was on Grant Street. The dispatcher says "Grant Avenue?" and the man agrees, repeating "Grant Avenue."
The dispatcher then transferred the call to the Fire Department and put the call on mute while she dispatched police to Grant Avenue. While talking to the JCFD dispatcher, the caller is heard on the tape as saying the fire is on Grand Street.
The caller at one point shouts to his grandmother, asking her for the correct address of the burning building. It also appears that the caller is just outside the burning building since he is heard yelling "Kick the door down!"
Although the police 911 operator later gets additional calls saying there is a fire on Grant Avenue, she repeatedly tells callers that the fire department is on the way because she is not aware of the mix-up, officials said.
Shea said police got to the fire at 28 1/2 Grant Avenue in 2 minutes and the residence was already completely engulfed in flames. Firefighters arrived 5 minutes later.
After responding at Grand Street and finding no fire, an audio tape of communications between a Jersey City Fire Department dispatcher and a firefighter shows the confusion is evident.
"We are having an address problem in Company 17," the dispatcher says. "Trying to get ... contact Engine Company 8. ... That's Grant with a "t.' ... 2-7 Grant Avenue."
The fire claimed the lives of the Rev. Bishop William Pickett, his wife Eula Mae, 80, and sons Thomas, 55, and Curtis, 53.
Shea said the city currently has three separate dispatch systems for fire, police and EMS, and he said he will work on unifying the systems. Fulop has suggested changing the names of streets with similar sounding names, but he said that would mean renaming as many as 15 streets and it may not be feasible.
Several city council members attended the press event.
Councilman Richard Boggiano, a retired police officer, said “Let’s put retired cops and active duty cops back into the radio room like we had years ago and we never had problems.”
Shea said the cause of the fire has remains under investigation, but it may have been an electrical fire that started in the building's basement.
Fulop said family members of the victims were allowed to listen to the recordings earlier today, but he would not characterize their reaction.