Officials take action after botched 911 call

February 13, 2008 3:12:33 PM PST
Changes are being made to the Bucks County EMS dispatch after a woman died in a house fire. She called 9-1-1, but was then put on hold. Bedridden Brenda Orr called 911 the morning of January 29th to report her bed was on fire and she could not get out. The phone rang six times according to the official report before an operator picked up. Twenty-eight seconds had elapsed and Orr was immediately placed on hold.

Twenty-six seconds later a second operator picked up and more valuable time elapsed before a rescue team was finally dispatched. Nearly a minute went by before Orr could report she was in a burning bed.

The county's investigation concluded the entire handling of the incident was a text book for incompetence and disaster by the crew on duty.

"The phone rang six times. That was wrong. When the call was answered, it was placed on hold. That was wrong. When the call was serviced, there was some suggestion that Ms. Orr was treated with discourtesy. That was wrong," said Bucks County Commissioner James Cawley. "While the phone was ringing six times, there were ten people on duty who were capable of answering the phone call who failed to do so. That was wrong."

The county says the fire was too far advanced by the time Orr made the initial call, so they probably would not have been able to save her life if the 911 call had been properly handled. That doesn't let the 911 crew off the hook.

"They were not doing their job properly," said Brent Wiggins, the director of emergency communications. .

In all, eleven dispatchers and four supervisors have been disciplined. Because of union protection, that means a letter will be going into their personnel file and they will be going to mandatory retraining sessions. Officials said the entire 911 system will be upgraded soon. .