Help was on the way for nearly a half-hour

March 09, 1994|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Sun Staff Writer

A 50-year-old Crofton woman who had fallen down her stairs waited for nearly a half-hour yesterday while an Anne Arundel County ambulance crew, confused by a computer glitch, went to the wrong address, a county fire official confirmed.

The ambulance and fire engine first went to 1588 Eaton Way in Annapolis instead of 1588 Eton Way in Crofton, where Penny Richmond, 50, lay injured.

By the time the mistake was sorted out, Mrs. Richmond, who was knocked unconscious by the fall, had revived and was alert.

Her husband, Bernard, had called 911 at 6:22 a.m.

The ambulance pulled up outside the couple's home at 6:50 a.m, 28 minutes later.

"Obviously, that is not the norm," said Battalion Chief Gary Sheckells. That was the first such problem in more than a year, he added.

Normal response time is five to eight minutes. "It is unfortunate that this happened. Fortunately, the injury was not more serious," he said.

Mrs. Richmond said she suffered no broken bones and declined to go to a hospital.

"I knew they were taking a while, because we had received a phone call from the emergency service saying they were lost," Mrs. Richmond said yesterday. "We didn't realize they were lost in Annapolis. We have a long driveway, and we thought that was what caused the confusion."

Chief Sheckells said the problem could be either a computer malfunction or typographical error in the telephone system the dispatch center uses.

The computer, which flashes an address on the screen as soon as a call is answered, listed "1588 Eaton Way" -- the wrong one.

Chief Sheckells said officials believe the dispatcher also typed in the spelling he saw on his screen and sent a fire engine from West Annapolis and an ambulance from Riva to the Eaton Way address.

They arrived about six minutes later, discovered they had the wrong address and called headquarters. At 6:37 a.m., a dispatcher sent an engine from the Arundel Fire Hall in Crofton and an ambulance from Waugh Chapel to the correct address.

Chief Sheckells said Bell Atlantic has been notified of the error and he expects it to be corrected shortly.

Meanwhile, dispatchers have a memo posted by their computer terminals explaining that there are two streets with similar names.

"The problem is that there are two Eton Ways," the chief said. "Though they are spelled differently, it can cause a problem."

Those two streets are not the only ones with similar or same names in Anne Arundel. For example, there are three Patuxent River Roads -- in Davidsonville, Harwood and Gambrills. Two have overlapping addresses.

"To say it is not a problem would not be truthful," Chief Sheckells said. "But I don't know the extent of the problem."

Mrs. Richmond said she is not upset with the Fire Department.

"I just hope it gets straightened out before somebody really needs them," she said. "Something has to be done with this computer system. Either that, or we have to rename every street."

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