Monday, May 22, 2006
7 News Investigations: 911 Nightmare
If something bad happens, most of us consider it comforting that we know we can call 911 and help will be on the way. But in Miami-Dade county complaints are mounting that 911 calls are not being answered right away. Seven's Patrick Fraser has the story.
WSVN--When it's an emergency...
911 Operator: "Miami-Dade police and fire. What is the address of the emergency?"
It is the number we all call.
911 Operator: "911 -- Do you need Police, Fire or Rescue?"
Delia: "Oh my God, we need Police!"
911 -- to get a police officer, a firefighter or a rescue truck right away.
But 7 News has discovered you may have to wait a long time to even get someone to answer the phone at 911. Delia West did.
Delia West: "I'm like Marcesha, Dawanay is having a seizure."
On February 9th she watched in horror as her 2-year old granddaughter had a seizure.
Delia West: "The baby, like her head fell back and her eyes went back and her mom was doing this and at the time, I proceeded to call 911."
Then waited as the phone rang and rang.
As she held the phone to her ear... She heard a horrible sound.
Delia: "By the time, the baby fell all the way back, as if a tire deflate, you could just hear the air leave her body. Shhhhhhh... like that."
Delia was frantic.
Delia West: "I'm like Marcesha, they're not answering, they're not answering."
Afraid she dialed the wrong number, Delia hung up and called 911 again.
Delia: "She put the baby in my lap. And like I said, there was no life in her."
Still no answer.
Delia: "Please. Marcesha, they're not answering the phone."
She hung up and dialed a third time.
Delia: "I'm calling 911, I'm trying to hold the baby."
Still no answer.
She dials 911 a fourth time... An operator finally answered.
911 Operator: "What's your emergency?"
Delia: "My grandbaby is not breathing!"
Needless to say delia and her daughter were hysterical.
911 Operator: "Tell that person to stop screaming. I can't hear you."
Delia: "Listen, I need an ambulance. My granddaughter is not breathing."
Four calls to 911 before Delia could get an answer. The first rang 37 seconds before she hung up...before an operator answered.
Delia: "I didn't know if Dawanay was going to live."
Patrick Fraser: "And with her granddaughter not breathing a minute would seem like forever. A fluke? No. State law requires a call to 911 to be answered within 10 seconds. Delia waited 37 seconds on just her first call. And 7 News has discovered it's happening over and over in Miami Dade county."
Major Thomas Gross: "She shouldn't have had to wait that long."
911 officials admit what happened to Delia was wrong.
Major Thomas Gross: "Our service goal for the bureau is all 911 calls under ten seconds."
And right now Miami Dade county is not reaching that goal.
We requested records for several days...
On April 1st, 20 percent of the callers had to wait longer than 10 seconds for someone to answer 911.
On April 9th, 27 percent had to wait longer than 10 seconds.
And on May 5th, the county failed to answer 19 percent in 10 seconds or less.
On one day we checked a caller waited nearly two minutes for a 911 operator to answer the phone.
"So somebody waited 112 seconds for somebody at 911 to pick up?"
Major Thomas Gross: "That is correct. And again that is an un, unacceptable rate."
And while the state requires an answer within 10 seconds, most large counties fail to meet the standard.
And when they don't, there is no punishment from the state which seldom even bothers to check to see if calls are being answered in the required time.
Over the last 30 years Miami Dade's 911 system has only been checked twice. Both times it did meet the 10 second standard.
The last check was in 2002 which showed 911 calls answered in 49 seconds, 39 seconds, 45 seconds and 70 seconds.
An eternity if your child has stopped breathing.
Delia West: "That was the most horrible experience I ever had in my life."
But many people have to wait because half of the 911 calls operators get are not emergencies. Listen to some we heard...
Caller: "I got a ticket yesterday... what can I do about it?"
911 Operator: "Ma'am, you dialed 911 for a cat. That's not an emergency."
All those calls keep the 911 operators busy.
Major Thomas Gross: "Every call to 9-1-1 that is not a life threatening emergency will delay the 9-11 response to the next caller that calls in."
To improve its performance Miami Dade will add 45 new staffers over the next two years.
And add new technology.
Major Thomas Gross: "We'll go through additional system upgrades in the next couple of months. So we are trying to stay current with technology."
Hopefully it will improve because 911 is the first link in our emergency network.
Delia West: "I love you. You love me."
Luckily for Delia the rescue crews arrived. Her granddaughter survived.
Delia West: "Can Grandma have a big hug."
And she says she hopes the people running the 911 center understand how long each second of waiting can be.
Delia West: "It was the most awful feeling. A horrible thing that I don't want no mother to experience."
Because 911 is a lifesaver and should never be a long wait.