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Child deaths in Werribee house fires linked to Victorian triple-0 and ambulance delays

Chronic delays in Victoria’s emergency responses kept a triple-0 caller agonizingly on hold while four children died in a house fire last year.

A caller reporting the house fire that killed four children in Werribee, a west Melbourne suburb last year, couldn’t get through for more than three minutes, a damning report revealed.

The guideline time for answering a Triple 0 call to alert emergency services and police to a life-threatening incident is under five seconds.

Elin Osman, 1, was one of the children killed in a house fire in the western Melbourne suburb of Werribee, where the triple-0 caller experienced a delay in getting through

Elin Osman, 1, was one of the children killed in a house fire in the western Melbourne suburb of Werribee, where the triple-0 caller experienced a delay in getting through

A report of Victoria’s triple-0 error found the caller who reported the fire at the Werribee house in November was initially put on hold for a minute and 22 seconds.

This was because too many Telstra service workers were on hold trying to put calls through to Victorian ambulances, the Sunday Age reported.

It took another 79 seconds for someone from Victoria’s Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority (ESTA) to answer the call.

It took another 10 minutes for firefighters to reach the fiery inferno, which still contained children Hamid (10), Esin (6), Nadir (3) and Elin (1).

Her father Nagmeldin Osman had tried to get her out of the house but was prevented by flames.

When firefighters entered the garage, they found the children’s bodies.

It took firefighters another 10 minutes to get to a deadly house fire in Werribee after the Triple 0 caller reporting the fire was unable to get through for more than three minutes

It took firefighters another 10 minutes to get to a deadly house fire in Werribee after the Triple 0 caller reporting the fire was unable to get through for more than three minutes

The Triple-0 failure at Werribee was just one incident highlighted in the report, which shows 40 life-threatening events killed 33 people between July 2021 and the end of May while emergency calls were held.

Tony Pearce, inspector general for emergency management, who wrote the report, said it was up to the coroner to decide whether delays contributed to the deaths.

The benchmark for Victoria’s Triple 0 service is that 90 per cent of emergency calls are answered within five seconds.

However, the report found it missed the benchmark throughout the period: 67.8 percent of calls were answered within five seconds in September 2021.

The delay time bottomed out in January 2022, when only 39 percent of calls were answered on time.

This means that less than four out of ten calls were answered according to the benchmark.

“During this period, the Victorian Government ended the latest in a series of lockdowns and began easing restrictions,” Mr Pearce’s 150-page report said.

Mourners gather at the site of the Werribee house fire that killed four children

Mourners gather at the site of the Werribee house fire that killed four children

“This contributed to a significant increase in call volume, with ESTA answering approximately 2800 calls per day for eight months, i.e. 400 more per day than the 2020/21 average.”

ESTA reported the lowest emergency response performance in its history for the six months from October 2021 to March of this year.

This resulted in thousands of callers waiting more than a minute each month for ESTA to answer their emergency call.

Some calls, Mr Pearce said, were queued for “completely unacceptable” lengths of time – 10 minutes, 15 minutes and longer.

Forty potential “adverse events” were associated with delays in answering calls, agency command and control decisions, and/or problems with ambulance equipment.

Of these 40 events, 33 patients did not survive.

Among them was Alisha Hussein, 14, who died of an asthma attack while waiting in her parents’ car and waiting 15 minutes for a triple-0 call to be answered.

The benchmark for Victoria's Triple Zero call service, operated by the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority (ESTA), is that 90 per cent of ambulance calls are answered within five seconds

The benchmark for Victoria’s Triple Zero call service, operated by the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority (ESTA), is that 90 per cent of ambulance calls are answered within five seconds

The family of Nick Panagiotopoulos, 47, made several calls to Triple-0 that went unanswered after he collapsed with chest pains.

When the ambulance arrived after waiting 25 minutes, it was too late.

One person waited more than 76 minutes to speak to an ETSA calltaker in January.

Resource allocation was identified as the primary reason why callers experienced delays, as ESTA “missed opportunities” to recruit and deploy additional callers.

Response times have improved since the review began in January 2022, rising to 86.2 percent in five seconds in June this year.

“This improvement is undoubtedly due to some urgent government interventions and ESTA’s dedicated efforts,” he said.

ESTA reported the lowest emergency response performance in its history for the six months from October 2021 to March of this year

ESTA reported the lowest emergency response performance in its history for the six months from October 2021 to March of this year

Mr Pearce made 42 findings and eight recommendations, all of which are recognized by the government.

This review follows an earlier review by former Victoria Police Chief Graham Ashton in ESTA, which recommended renaming the service, bringing it under state control and dissolving its board.

Ambulance Services Secretary Jaclyn Symes offered her condolences to those who lost loved ones during the pandemic.

“This is unacceptable,” she told reporters on Saturday. “That’s why we acted, that’s why we invested.”

The government has pledged to hire and train nearly 400 additional call-takers as part of a $333 million state budget package announced in May.

“Today’s ESTA is not the same as the ESTA six months ago,” said Ms. Symes. “It’s stronger, it’s more resilient and better equipped to respond to strong demand.”

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11177335/Werribee-house-fire-child-deaths-linked-Victorian-triple-0-ambulance-delays.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&ito=1490 Child deaths in Werribee house fires linked to Victorian triple-0 and ambulance delays

Bradford Betz

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