Continued shortage of 911 dispatchers raises alarms in Philadelphia: 'This was very scary for us'

There continues to be a shortage of roughly 100 dispatchers. There are currently 30 new recruits in training, officials say.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Despite efforts to fix it, confidence in the city's 911 system is diminishing as the city deals with a shortage of personnel.

"It's very scary, it's a life or death situation. 911 should be there when we call," said Georgeanne Huff-Labovitz, who owns Marie Huff's hair salon in the city's Tacony section.

She was still shaken by what happened two weeks ago when an 86-year-old customer with a known heart condition suffered a medical emergency.

Huff-Labovitz says they tried to help the woman who told them she felt dizzy.

"I called 911 and it was about 25 rings and I'm thinking, 'What is going on?'" she recalled.

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A hiring need for 911 dispatchers causes concerns for some residents surrounding response times.



Huff-Labovitz says she got very nervous because of the victim's age and heart condition.

"This was very scary for us, so I dialed 911 again and again. About 25 times it rang. Now what do I do?" said Huff-Labovitz.

Twenty minutes later, her daughter was able to get through to 911 dispatchers who sent firefighters and then ultimately paramedics to her shop in the 6900 block of Torresdale Avenue.

A similar incident happened on Monday night when a woman tried calling 911 a number of times to report that her ex-boyfriend was trying to break into her home on Sanger Street.

Police say the man kicked the door for several minutes while yelling and screaming. The man was able to eventually get inside, but another man inside the home shot the woman's ex-boyfriend, killing him before police arrived.

Councilwoman Cindy Bass says she has been hearing more and more people complaining about the 911 system.

"And they're not calling 911 just to chit chat, they're calling because there's an emergency," said Bass.

In a statement, police say they are aware of delays in the 911 response to the incident on Sanger Street and are currently looking into it. They say the 911 system has experienced a significant increase in call volume, while also contending with staffing shortages.

Officials say they've made adjustments to schedules during peak-call hours and graduated several classes of new dispatchers.

However, there continues to be a shortage of roughly 100 dispatchers. There are currently 30 new recruits in training.

For Councilwoman Bass, the city is not moving quickly enough.

"What is happening? What is taking so long? How are we going to correct this and make sure the people in the city feel safe? Because right now they are concerned and they are rightfully concerned," said Bass.

"And they just hired all these 911 operators, I don't understand, we pay a lot of taxes here," added Huff-Labovitz.

Police want to remind residents to not hang up if you call 911 because your call will automatically be placed at the end of the queue. Police also remind residents to use 311 for non-emergencies.

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