02/14/2008

Pa. 911 operators disciplined over delay

By The Associated Press

DOYLESTOWN, Pa. — Ten emergency dispatchers were not busy when a woman called 911 to report a fire that killed her, yet it took six rings before anyone answered the phone, authorities said.

Brenda Orr, 53, was initially put on hold when someone answered her call Jan. 29. That person was already on another line dispatching an ambulance, but felt compelled to answer Orr's call because the phone had rung six times, a county investigation found.

''Can you hold one second please?'' the dispatcher said, according to a recording of the call.

''I can't,'' Orr answered. ''This is an emergency, 911 emergency. ... Bed on fire.''

None of the 10 unoccupied dispatchers gave a ''reasonable explanation'' for not answering the phone promptly, said Brent Wiggins, Bucks County's director of emergency communications.

''They were just not doing their job properly,'' Wiggins said Wednesday. ''That's the bottom line. ... One or two said they thought someone else was going to pick up the phone.''

Orr, who was bedridden with multiple sclerosis, could not escape the fire. Rescuers arrived less than four minutes after her call, said Jim Cawley, chairman of the county commissioners. Fire officials said they did not believe the delay in answering made a difference in her death.

Cawley said those involved were being disciplined. He declined to elaborate, but said no one was fired.

All county 911 operators must now review a tape of the call with their supervisors and compare it to one in which the operator gave exemplary service, he said.

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