Woman placed on hold dies in fire

February 8, 2008 8:45:22 PM PST
Authorities in Bucks County are investigating a 911 call placed by a woman reporting a fire in her bedroom. She was put on hold and later died in the blaze.The Bucks County commissioners have ordered a full investigation into the 911 call that 53-year-old Brenda Orr made from her house on the day she died in a fire.

On January 29th, Brenda Orr, who suffered from multiple sclerosis, called 911 to report that her bed was on fire. It took seven rings and 23 seconds before an operator picked up the call from the disabled woman.

The male operator who answered the call put her on hold. Twenty-five seconds later, another operator picked up.

"We're concerned about the minute that's missing," Doylestown Police Chief James Donnelly said this week. "Had we had that minute, I'm not saying for sure that we could have saved her, but we would have been a minute closer."

Orr, who used a wheelchair, was trapped and died in the blaze. Bucks County's Director of Emergency Communications said the county has already taken action to resolve 911 problems.

"We know that there were some protocol problems. We are looking for others. We want to make sure if we do a corrective action, we do it properly." said Brent Wiggins, director of emergency communications.

Donnelly said the fire was caused by careless smoking, though the official fire report leaves the cause as undetermined.

Flowers sit outside Orr's house on a lawn covered with her burnt belongings. Neighbors wonder if a few seconds could have helped save her from the fast moving flames.

"I don't think that's going to make that much of a difference. It was just too far gone. It was awful. Awful," said Judy Hedden.

"I don't know if it would have made a difference, but every little bit that you can save time can maybe help somebody in the end," said Donna Miller.

The 911 operators have been retrained and provided counseling. A full report is expected to be go to the commissioners next week.