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Four East Cleveland (Ohio) firefighters were forced to bail out of the second story of a vacant home last week after their portable radio call for water wasn’t heard by the pump operator, and flames nearly cut off their escape route. Fire officials say two firefighters fell 15 feet into a side yard, while the other two crawled onto the front porch roof and were rescued by colleagues with a ladder. One firefighter was taken to a hospital but later released. Fire officials said a faulty radio may have contributed to the problem. In fact, video of the radios shows that East Cleveland is using a business grade model of Motorola radios. More significantly, the two pictured radios both had major antenna damage that appears to have occurred from use before the fire, not during the incident itself. The city’s mayor says new radios have already been purchased and will be put into service immediately. He didn’t explain why the new radios hadn’t been distributed earlier. View the radios and watch a video after the break. [click to continue…]

Officials at a regional Washington state communications center have issued a mildly-worded letter of reprimand to the dispatcher who handled a 911 call from a social worker last February, minutes before the parent she was supervising set fire to his house, killing himself and two young children. The Tacoma-based Law Enforcement Support Agency (LESA) delivered the letter of reprimand to 18-year veteran dispatcher Davd Lovrak for allegedly violating the center’s mission statement, and three statements from the center’s operations manual on trust, “concern and courtesy,” and responsiveness. The agency found that Lorvak did not actually mishandle the 911 call or violate more substantive sections of the operations manual. In fact, the reprimand letter written by LESA assistant director Diana Lock said Lovrak correctly prioritized the incident, had no premise information on which to rely, and correctly did not rely on Phase II 911 location information because, “it can be extremely inaccurate.” Much of the letter recounted a “fact-finding” that Lock had with Lovrak, during which he admitted his errors and justified his actions. Lock summed up, “Could you have handled this call better? Yes, and you have been the first to admit that.”  Lock concluded that a written reprimand was the appropriate discipline. “If the outcome had been different I feel a Written Record of Counseling would be warranted,” she wrote without explanation. The social worker dialed 911 to report Josh Powell, who was the focus of several police investigations and was in the midst of a custody battle with his wife. When the social worker delivered the children to his home for a supervised visit, Powell slammed the door shut. Shortly after, the house erupted in flames. Download (pdf) Lovrak’s letter of reprimand here., and read more about the original incident here.

The sons of a 67 year-old Berkeley (Calif.) man who was bludgeoned to death last February have called for improvements in the way dispatchers handle incidents, especially during times when police responses are restricted. Peter Cukor was struck with a ceramic pot and killed by a man who was later declared incompetent to stand trial because of his psychiatric condition. Cukor called police to report the suspect was on his property and acting erratically. At the time police were preparing for an Occupy Oakland march and were only handling Priority 1 incidents—the calltaker classified Cukor’s incident as Priority 2. Police did not respond until Cukor’s wife dialed 911 to report he was being assaulted. During a press conference last week, Cukor’s adult sons said police calltakers should inform callers of the assigned priority of their incident and given an approximate response time. Dispatchers should also receive training to better evaluate the circumstances of incidents reported by citizens, the sons said. The Cukors also called upon Alameda County adopt a law that would more effectively handle people with psychiatric conditions, saying the suspect should have been locked up “years ago.” Download (pdf) the family’s statement here.

A European public safety communications group has published a long-term standard for a future 1-1-2 emergency number system, which like the one being planed for the United States, will be based on IP technology. The European Emergency Number Association (EENA) says the 258-page standard defines a system with advanced text, photo and video features, interoperability among a wide variety of public safety agencies and is based on Open Standards. “This is undoubtedly a key milestone reached, said Hannes Tschofenig, chair of the EENA’s technical subcommittee. “Europe was lacking such a reference document and hence we are proud to be able release the NG112 LTD today,” he said. The document is similar to standards published by the U.S.-based National Emergency Number Association on the subject of NG911. Download (pdf) the new European standard here.

The arrest yesterday of a Florida man for high-profile second-degree murder was based on a probably cause affidavit that included information from a 911 call the suspect made to a police dispatcher. George Zimmerman, 26, was arrested and charged for the murder of Trayvon Martin, 17, during a confrontation last February. The arrest caps a period of tension and controversy across the country over the shooting. Zimmerman dialed 911 to report Martin as a suspicious person in the neighborhood. During that call a Sanford police dispatcher asked him, “Are you following him?” Zimmerman said, “Yes.” The dispatcher replied, “OK, we don’t need you to do that.” Zimmerman replied, “OK.” In an affidavit in support of the request for an arrest warrant, two state attorney’s investigators outlined the evidence against Zimmerman. At one point they wrote somewhat inaccurately, “When the police dispatcher realized that Zimmerman was pursuing Martin, he instructed Zimmerman not to do that and that the responding officer would meet him.” The affidavit continued, “Zimmerman disregarded the police dispatcher and continue to follow Martin who was trying to return to his home.” The affidavit defines the dispatcher’s words as an “instruction” which Zimmerman was obligated to follow. However, the dispatcher’s words actually were less grammatically imperative, telling Zimmerman that his actions weren’t needed by the police in order to handle the situation. Download (pdf) the Zimmerman’s 911 call transcript and affidavit here.

Dispatchers Are Unsung Heroes

A profile of the Indiana State Police communications center in Fort Wayne (Ind.) during National Public Safety Telecommunicator’s Week.

A former Mt. Vernon (Ala., pop. 1,536) police dispatcher has filed a federal lawsuit claiming a co-worker sent her sexually harassing emails in 2009, posted the emails on a department bulletin board and stalked her, and that police and city officials took no action when she complained. Francie Hollis, 36, says she resigned as a result of the actions, and is asking for unspecified damages, including back pay, reinstatement or an award of money. Both William Cannon, the dispatcher Hollis names in the lawsuit, and mayor Jerry Lundy deny Hollis’ account of the incidents and her allegations. The lawsuit also names police chief Joseph Cassidy. Cannon admits he sent Hollis emails, but that they were with encouragement from her and intended to assist her during her health problems. Hollis also says the town’s mayor subjected her to sexual harassment by making “lewd comments about sex acts, indicating his desire ego engage in such acts with Plaintiff.” Hollis says the behavior created a “hostile environment and culture which allowed Mr. Cannon to continue to subject Plaintiff to his unwanted advances,” the lawsuit states. As a result of all this, Hollis suffered, “economic loss, emotional distress, humiliation and embarrassment.” Read more about the lawsuit here, and download (pdf) the EEOC and lawsuit court documents here. Update: Hollis and five other defendants settled the lawsuit in late April 2012 for $74,000, according to a news account.

A state appellate judge has ordered New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg to release an outside consultant’s report on the city’s emergency dispatch system, which reportedly is very critical of the 911, radio and dispatch systems the city has been constructing over the past 10 years. Judge Arthur Engoron gave the city five days to release the report, which had been subpoenaed by the city Uniformed Firefighters Association (UFFA) earlier this year. Bloomberg has refused to release the report, claiming it’s still in draft form, although it was completed by Winbourne Consulting and handed to the city last year. The study reportedly determined that response times have lengthened since the communications systems have been upgraded, that geofiles are inaccurate and that the full police-fire-EMS integration isn’t complete. The city has spent $2.3 billion to overhaul the emergency communication systems, about $1 billion over the original estimate. The UFFA claims that Bloomberg’s administration is concealing faults in the system for political purposes, and that the public’s safety is at stake. Read more about Bloomberg’s refusal to release the report here, and the judge’s decision here. Download (pdf) the UFFA’s subpoena court filing here.

The nation’s public safety organizations have issued statements of dispatcher praise ahead of National Public Safety Telecommunications Week, which begins this Sunday. The second full week of April celebration was first conceived by Patricia Anderson of the Contra Costa County (Calif.) Sheriff’s Office in 1981, and after Congressional acceptance in the early 1990s, it became a permanent observance. View the text of the first Congressional proclamation declaring the special week, and read the APCO Web page about the week. [click to continue…]

Police in Denver (Colo.) are investigating the handling of a 911 call from a road rage victim, during which a dispatcher told the man to return to the city for an officer to take a report, and which ended in the man’s death. Officials of the city’s 911 center say the dispatcher should not have required Jimma Reat, 24, to return to Denver from his apartment in adjacent Wheat Ridge, where he dialed 911. It’s not clear from news accounts if the dispatcher told Reat to return to the scene of the incident, or simply to any location in Denver. However, Reat did reluctantly agree to return to Denver, and arrived near the area where the original incident occurred. Within minutes, police say, the other party in the road rage appeared and began shooting at Reat and his three companions. Reat was fatally injured. Carl Simpson, executive director of Denver’s 911 agency, said the dispatcher is on paid leave during an investigation, and that he is a two-year veteran. He told a reporter, “The call transpired very quickly. It got sideways very quickly. I am deeply saddened by the events that transpired. This call left me very saddened for the family.” Simpson explained simply, “I do know he didn’t follow procedures.” Police have not released the logging tape of the call, but Reat’s friends say they told the dispatcher it was not safe to return to the scene. Simpson said the dispatcher should have sent Wheat Ridge police to contact Reat, as well as assign a Denver officer to coordinate the investigation with WRPD. Read more about the incident here.

A creative and sophisticated prankster using audio clips from Arnold Schwarzenegger movies dialed the Albuquerque (NM) police comm center last January, conferenced three dispatchers together, and then kept them on the line, disrupting operations for over 15 minutes. The call is among the most unusual ever made to a comm center, but used techniques that have now become routine. Police say someone collected several audio clips from Schwarzenegger’s movies, selecting those that would sound like plausible responses to a dispatcher’s questions. The person then dialed the police department’s seven-digit tip line, and when the calltaker answered, began playing back the selected clips. The person made two more calls, and when those calltakers answered, he/she conferenced them into the call. Police determined a location from the call, but the caller apparently falsified the caller ID information, and the address turned out to be uninvolved with the call. Previous prank callers have used VoIP technology to dial the seven or ten-digit telephone numbers of comm centers, and have used so-called “spoofing” services to hide the origin of the call and display a falsified telephone number. Such calls can be traced, but it takes some technical expertise, inter-agency coordination and time. Listen to the prank call here.

As couches were being set afire and college students clogged the streets in Lexington (Ken.) tonight after Kentucky’s NCAA basketball championship win, the social media were lit up over the voice of the dispatcher working the city’s police radio channel. A live Internet stream of LPD’s channel 2 attracted nearly 13,000 listeners at one point, and also generated scores of Tweets and Facebook postings. Many of the Tweets commented on the quality of the female dispatcher’s voice, while others admired her coordination skills. Some of the on-line comments were clearly sexist, but others were strictly professional. There was considerable background noise during radio transmissions from field units, and coordinating safe fire responses was difficult. Over a 10-minute period, an officer’s portable radio intermittently broadcast an open mike signal, lending to the complexity of the incident. The police department and Fayette County sheriff were still sending more officers and deputies to the campus area at 2 a.m. on Tuesday.  The live scanner audio was posted on RadioReference.com.

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Last month an Eagle Rock (S. Calif.) woman dialed 911 when her husband collapsed, and Los Angeles Fire Department firefighter/dispatcher Al Camacho answered. He immediately recognized the problem and guided Deanna Brigidi-Stewart into CPR and rescue breathing, which kept her husband alive until paramedics arrived. Yesterday Camacho, Brigidi-Stewart and her children reunited at the department’s communications center. Listen to the entire call here, and watch another video after the break. [click to continue…]

A just-published study of public safety dispatchers formally reveals for the first time that they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at a higher percentage than the general population, the result of “significant duty-related trauma exposure.” The study was performed in 2010-2011 by Heather Pierce and Michell Lilly of the Dept. of Psychology at N. Illinois University (NIU), who recruited 171 active dispatchers from 24 different states. The researchers used established assessment methods for evaluating each participant’s exposure to stress, whose results correlate closely to the presence of PTSD. After an analysis of the assessment data, the researchers say participants reported experiencing fear, helplessness, or horror in reaction to 32 percent of the different types of calls they experienced. More interesting, the researchers said, “Although telecommunicators are physically distant from the traumatic scene and their personal integrity is rarely threatened, they may not be buffered from the development of PTSD symptoms.” They also said that a disproportionate amount of worst calls experienced by the sample involved harm to a child or were calls that involved a personal or professional relationship, such as police officers, EMTs or firefighters. To purchase the 5-page article ($35), visit the Wiley.com Web site. Watch a NIU video about the study after the break. [click to continue…]

A pair of recent fatal incidents raises the question of what information and instruction dispatchers should provide to 911 callers, and if the dispatchers in the cases did enough to prevent the killings. In one case a 911 caller subsequently shot and killed an unarmed citizen, while in another the caller himself was killed after being struck in the head by a deranged man. In both cases the involved agencies in Florida and California say the calltakers acted appropriately and did not violate any policy or procedure. [click to continue…]