Dallas firefighters complained Monday about a delay in police emergency response over the weekend that left firefighters to deal on their own with a knife wielding suspect.
“It was one of those runs where you think it’s going to be the last run you ever make,” said Dallas Firefighters Union President Jim McDade.
It happened Saturday around 11:45 p.m. when firefighters from Station 56 on Beltline Road responded to the Prestonwood Hillcrest Apartments on La Cosa Drive.
McDade said firefighters received a mental health call for a man who had been threatening to light fires and menacing his ex-spouse.
“She waved them in and the guy came out from behind bushes with a knife in his hand,” McDade said.
The firefighters called for police back up and when no officers responded, they retreated to the fire truck for safety.
Fire Department radio traffic recorded the exchange between the crew and the dispatcher.
“We’re locked in the engine,” said a transmission from Engine 56.
McDade said the suspect tried to get into the fire engine but as a few more minutes passed without police on the scene, the firefighters subdued the suspect.
“We’ve got him held down. We need police, code 3,” said a radio message said from the scene.
The crew asked for an ETA on police and the dispatcher said he had no estimate on arrival time.
”Engine 56, if you can let the guy go, the police have given you ability to do that,” the dispatcher said.
“We’re not letting go of this guy,” the engine crew responded.
At one point, McDade said the crew asked for help from Richardson Police since the location was close to that city.
After holding the suspect for around 15 minutes Dallas Police did respond to the scene.
McDade said firefighters are not trained or equipped to deal with dangerous suspects.
“That’s not our job. That’s not our roll,” he said.
In the past, he said police would respond very quickly to a Code 3 call for help as if it were a police officer in trouble. But recently the Firefighters Union leader said he has received other complaints about slow police response.
“This is the reality we face today with the lack of police coverage. We don’t have anybody who’s there for us to back us up in these situations,” McDade said.
Dallas Police released a statement on Monday night that detailed the times of the calls for help.
• 23:48 Call was changed from a Priority 2 to a Priority 1 by a 911 call-taker based on additional information.
• 23:49 Call changed from a Priority 1 to a Priority 2 by the dispatcher for reasons that are currently being reviewed by the department.
• 23:54 Call changed from a Priority 2 back to a Priority 1 by the Dispatch Sergeant based on the review of the call sheet.
• 23:55 Engine 56 requests DPD emergency assistance.
• 23:58 Engine 56 reports male chasing DFR with a knife, requesting DPD emergency assistance. DFR also requests Richardson PD.
• 23:58 Call is announced over the air by the DPD dispatcher.
• 23:59 Patrol Sergeant is enroute to call.
• 00:04 First Patrol element arrives at the apartment complex along with 2 DFR ambulances. Suspect subsequently placed into custody. Richardson PD responds shortly thereafter for mutual support.
Dallas police also stated in the email that both the police and fire departments are currently investigating and that they strive to provide service first to not only the community but also to our fellow first responders.
The Dallas Police force is around 600 officers smaller than it was in 2011.
A police union leader said that nearby officers were busy with another high priority call at the time of this situation Saturday night.
George Aranda, Dallas Chapter President of the National Latino Law Enforcement Organization, said Dallas officers are doing the best they can with current manpower and would always race to help firefighters in danger if possible.
“These officers are busting their butt every single day with the limited resources,” Aranda said.
Aranda works in Dallas Police recruiting.
“We need better pay. Better pay attracts a larger pool of officers,” he said.
The Dallas City Council this week will discuss how to use an extra $16 million that will be in the new city budget. The money is available after the Council voted last week not to reduce the property tax rate as much as the City Manager recommended.
Several City Council Members propose using the money for a 5% police and fire pay raise in addition to what was already in the proposed city budget, which public safety unions strongly support.
McDade said even with that extra increase, Dallas Public Safety pay would only be average compared with surrounding cities that compete for employees.
“But it does get us to be a little more competitive,” McDade said.
Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall has also supported reducing the passing grade on police entrance exams to 70% from 80% to accept more applicants.
Aranda said 70% was the passing grade when he was hired more than 20 years ago and had only recently been changed to 80%.
“It’s not like we’re lowering standards,” Aranda said. “It’s something that we need to revisit and put back into place.”
The Dallas City Council session is Wednesday.