Shortage of 911 dispatchers causes concerns in Philadelphia: 'Nobody answers the phone'

Philadelphia police are hopeful that 75 additional dispatchers will vastly improve wait times.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- When you call 9-1-1 in Philadelphia, you expect a dispatcher to pick up the phone within seconds.

But the people who spoke with Action News say that is just magical thinking.

The reality is, staffing concerns are causing some serious concerns in the city.

Resident Albert Palubinsky says about 11 p.m. on Monday, he and his neighbors were alerted to a fire across the street by a woman walking her dog.

He says what happened next was most disturbing: several of them called 9-1-1, but they couldn't get anyone to answer.

"I call 9-1-1, Kevin calls 9-1-1, my wife calls 9-1-1, and nobody answers the phone," said Albert Palubinsky.

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"I say it lasted about 20 minutes because at first the phone had just rang and rang and rang until it disconnected," Albert Palubinsky explained.

After alerting the occupants of the building, neighbor Kevin Little says he finally gave up and tried to put the fire out himself.

"I had two small fire extinguishers, so I was able to initially put the fire out but it came back," said Little.

Beth Palubinsky finally had the bright idea to call the 18th Police District.

"And within two minutes, there was a fleet of fire trucks," she said.

Philadelphia police have admitted that 9-1-1 wait times are still too long due to an increase in call volume and staffing shortages.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney recently approved money to hire 75 additional dispatchers. The first group graduated last week.

Fortunately, once firefighters were alerted by police, they were able to put the fire out quickly.

But confidence in the 9-1-1 system has been shaken for residents.

"The fault it seems to be is in a system that allows there not to be enough people to answer enough calls. How can that be?" said Beth Palubinsky. "This was a wake-up call to us because if it hadn't been for the neighbors... thank God for my neighbors."

Police are hopeful the hiring of 75 additional dispatchers will vastly improve wait times.



Philadelphia Fire Department's fiscal year 2022 budget testimony provided the following information for fire and EMS response times:

-The average fire engine response time in 2020 was 6 minutes 35 seconds. The goal for FY 21 & 22 is for that response time to be 6 min 39 sec or less.

-In 2020, 22.39% of fire calls were responded to within 5 min 20 sec. The goal for FY 21 & 22 is for at least 90% of calls to be responded to within 5 min 20 sec.

-The average EMS response time in 2020 was 11 min 4 sec. The goal for FY 21 & 22 is for that response time to be 9 min or less.

-In 2020, 34.1% of fire calls were responded to within 9 min. The goal for FY 21 & 22 is for at least 90% of calls to be responded to within 9 min.
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