WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — Kevin Baker faced the unthinkable: trying to save his dying brother’s life with chest compressions when he collapsed early Sunday morning of a cardiac arrest.
But as Bernard Baker Jr.’s life slipped away right before Kevin, his father and his brother’s fiancee; their calls to D.C.’s 911 Call Center starting at 3:22 a.m. were not answered right away starting at 3:22 a.m.
Both Sade Hardy and Bernard Baker Sr. were on hold for a few minutes each before the calls were answered. Hardy and Baker Sr. made second 911 calls that were picked up but put on hold at 3:27 a.m. for precious minutes.
”It took entirely too long. Entirely too long… it cost my brother his life,” Kevin Baker said. “No one came on the phone. It’s like you figure when you think of 911, that’s an emergency. In an emergency, you would think they would react like it’s an emergency.”
But the Bakers were also troubled at what seemed to them like a lack of urgency by the paramedics who arrived at home in the 4800 block of Illinois Avenue Northwest at 3:33 a.m.
She recalled hearing, “Please hold for dispatcher! Please hold for dispatcher,” from the 911 system when she was on hold.
Because of questions raised by DC News Now, the situation is now under investigation by both the DC 911 system and the DC Fire and EMS department, authorities said Friday.
In a statement, the Office of Unified Communications which runs the 911 center expressed “our sincere condolences to the loved ones of the District resident who passed away. This incident is still under investigation.”
A spokesman for the DC Fire and EMS Department also extended “our deepest sympathies on the loss of a loved one.” A top fire official also spoke to the family on Friday as part of its investigation.
DC’s troubled 911 Call Center has been under fire for years for botched and delayed calls that have led to death.
”I get downstairs, I go outside, I’m still on the phone with them outside. Someone pull up. No ambulance pull up with them. The fire department,” Hardy said while recounting what happened when the paramedics arrived. “He walked up and I say, ‘Where is the ambulance?’”
At 3:33 a.m. the first fire truck arrives and then about 40 seconds later an ambulance pulls up behind it. At 3:34 a.m., three paramedics one by one walked separately into the Baker home.
“To me personally, I felt as if they were rookies, like inexperienced or something like it’s their first day or first call,” Kevin Baker said. “I didn’t see no sense of urgency.”
A fourth person walked in at 3:38.
When Baker collapsed, he fell into a cracked an upstairs hallway mirror full of family photos and then hit the floor – not before he called for his brother Kevin and then Kevin responded, “Doe,” which comes from the Bernard Baker family nickname “Doeboi.”
His 74-year-old namesake father watched his oldest son, the one who took care of the elderly man, take his last breath. He was pronounced dead at 4:12 a.m., the family said.
“I watched my son come into this world and I watch him go to this world,” Baker Sr. said of his son passing away in front of him.
DC Auditor Kathleen Patterson said she noted in a scathing 2021 report that the Office of Unified Communications was below national standards in terms of response times for answering 911 calls.
”Two minutes or three minutes to pick up a 911 call is absolutely not acceptable,” Patterson said. “As I mentioned, the national standards are 15 seconds to pick up the phone and answer that call.”
One major problem for the 911 Call Center is staffing, Patterson said.
“There’s no more important public service and if we are short-staffed, then we need to take action and do something about that,” she said.
Now the Baker family is reeling from the death of a man they say always put others first before himself.
“This is probably the greatest guy I’ve ever met in my life,” said Joshua Baker, Bernard’s youngest brother. “He’s probably the one guy I’ve ever wanted to be like in my life. Just an all-around heart of gold.”
Now he’s gone and Kevin Baker wants accountability for his brother’s death.
“I feel as if, you know, we shouldn’t have an issue with 911,” he said. The 911 system “should be treated as a real emergency and people need to take their job more seriously.”