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911 Recordings Reveal Confusion Among Dispatchers During Fire At S.I. Convent

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The 911 calls were simply frustrating to hear, as a fire raged at a convent on Staten Island and a nun jumped out the window – while dispatchers seemed to go in circles getting firefighters to the scene.

As CBS 2’s Tracee Carrasco reported Wednesday night, Sister Denise Martin called 911 about the fire that tore through the old convent at St. Joseph Hill Academy on Staten Island in October.

The fire left five people injured.

The 911 tapes show that a group of dispatchers took nearly a minute and a half to pinpoint the address to which first responders were to be sent, CBS 2’s Jessica Schneider reported.

“But I also need an ambulance – we have somebody that just jumped out; had to go out of a window,” Martin said on the call.

Several dispatchers asked Sister Martin for the location and cross streets six times over the course of three separate phone calls.

“857 Hylan Blvd. This is in Staten Island?” one dispatcher is heard saying.

“No, 850 Hylan Blvd.,” the nun corrects her.

“That’s what I said. 850 Hylan Blvd.? This is in Staten Island?” the dispatcher responds.

The three just-released 911 calls documented Martin’s repeated attempts to try to give dispatchers the exact location of the convent. It took dispatchers nearly a minute and a half as they asked for the address and cross-streets six times.

“There’s a fire at what address, ma’am?” a dispatcher asked Martin.

“850 Hylan Blvd., but you have to come in through Columbia. It’s the old convent,” Martin said.

“What streets is that in between?” the dispatcher asked.

“It’s between Sand Lane, and you have to take Hylan Boulevard, make a right on Fingerboard and a right on Columbia,” Martin said.

Fire alarms sounded as the dispatcher questioned the address.

“OK, are you sure the building number is 850?” a dispatcher asked.

“Am I sure? It’s 850, that’s the school,” Martin said.

Next, Martin is heard, overcome by smoke, as she gives her exact location three more times.

“Tell me, Hylan Boulevard between what and what?” the dispatcher asked.

“Hylan Boulevard and it’s on Sand Lane, and you have to go — Hylan Boulevard. Please hurry,” Martin said.

Fire trucks arrived on the scene seven minutes after the initial call — two minutes longer than the FDNY’s average response time.

The blaze injured five people — four firefighters and a nun who jumped from the second-floor window. She is still in physical therapy.

The firefighters union said the incident proves there are problems with the city’s 911 system.

“As of now, it’s still not working,” said Lt. James McGowan of the Uniformed Firefighters Association. “I get in my office about a dozen complaints –wrong boroughs, wrong addresses, wrong apartment numbers. Seconds save lives.”

Uniformed Firefighters Association President Al Hagan told 1010 WINS’ Holli Haerr this wasn’t the only time there’s been a problem with the 911 dispatching system.

“If you call up, you are going to — it’s Russian roulette,” Hagan said. “This is not an aberration, this is now the norm.”

He added that he believes fire calls should go directly to fire dispatchers.

“It’s like you’re sending them out on a wild goose chase,” McGowan said. “People are going to get hurt.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio took action this week, ordering a comprehensive review of the 911 system and halting all additional spending on it.

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