Busy Signals During Fire Lead to Dallas 911 Review - NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth

Busy Signals During Fire Lead to Dallas 911 Review

Homeowner, neighbors say they couldn't reach operator during house fire



    The 911 system in Dallas is under review after neighbors on Berwick Avenue reported getting busy signals and hold messages when they tried to call for help after a house fire Wednesday. (Published Thursday, July 5, 2012)

    Dallas' 911 system is under internal review after residents complained about busy signals and hold messages during the Fourth of July.

    The owner of an Oak Cliff home destroyed by a fire early Wednesday morning and several neighbors said they could not get through to an operator when they called 911.

    Councilman Dwaine Caraway said city leaders are discussing how the system worked during the holiday.

    "Some folks only have one opportunity to dial 911, and that opportunity should not be a wasted opportunity," he said.

    Amy Lester said she got a hold message when she called 911 about a car crash. She said she hung up and dialed again.

    "When the 911 operator came on and spoke with me, I asked him, 'What's going on?'" she said. "He said, 'We're just busy right now. There's nothing major going on, no major catastrophe. We're just busy.'"

    Mayor Pro Tem Pauline Medrano said callers should not hang up when on hold with 911, because it just sets them back when they call again. Calls are answered in the order received.

    In a statement Wednesday afternoon about the July 4 house fire, Dallas police said a spike in calls within a 15-minute time frame appeared to contribute to callers not being able to immediately reach an operator. The department said 177 calls came into the 911 center between 12:30 a.m. and 12:45 a.m. At one point in that 15-minute period, 44 calls were holding.

    A call-by-call review showed that the first call from the area of the fire came in at 12:36 a.m. and hung up before reaching an operator, police said. The operator called back but reached the caller's voice mail. Six other hang-up calls came in from the area of the fire, several within seconds of each other. Operators tried to call back two additional times but got voice mail, the department said.

    A caller who dialed 911 at 12:39 a.m. hung up before reaching an operator, police said. The operator called back two seconds later, and the caller reported the fire. The caller was transferred to Dallas Fire-Rescue, but the caller could not give an exact location for the fire. Another 911 call about the fire came in and was transferred to the fire department. The caller provided the location of the fire, and a unit was assigned at 12:42 a.m., arriving at the location of the fire less than three minutes later.

    The police department said in its statement that 13 operators were working.

    Medrano said the call center had a similar number of call-takers this year as compared to other years.

    "There is no shortage of operators," she said.

    Dallas police did not comment Thursday when asked about average wait times and staffing levels.