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Similar-sounding street names and the state of Maine’s consolidated 911 system are the focus of debate and criticism from local public safety officials after a delayed response to a murder-suicide in the town of Winslow June 6th. Officials say Sarah Gordon dialed 911 and gave her address as “4 Marie Street” in the southern portion of downtown. She said her husband was threatening her with a gun. However, the calltaker in the central 911 center in Augusta heard the street name pronounced differently—as “Murray Street,” which actually exists about three miles away by road. The calltaker notified the comm center in Waterville, who notified Winslow officers, who arrived at the wrong location about six minutes after the call. Neighbors then dialed 911 to report gunfire at the correct location, and officers arrived on Marie St. about 10 minutes after the original 911 call. They found Gordon dead and her husband on the run. He was later pursued by police, and fatally shot himself. Police chiefs in the state say the state’s consolidated 911 system requires too many transfers and creates the opportunity for mis-communications. Read more about the incident here.

A collection of Oakland (Calif.) area public safety comm centers are part of the debate surrounding the drowning death of a suicidal man on May 30th off the city of Alameda shoreline, while several police officers and firefighters stood by and watched for nearly an hour, since they weren’t currently certified to perform water rescues. The inactions of the first responders has sparked sharp criticism from the victim’s family and city residents, but fire officials say budget cutbacks made it necessary to cancel water rescue training, and that firefighters would have been at risk if they attempted to rescue the man. A Coast Guard boat that arrived was too big to reach the man in shallow water off the island city. Alameda fire officials initially said they requested boats from other jurisdictions. But those agencies produced logging tapes that revealed city police and Alameda County fire dispatchers had merely called to ask about the status of their boats, and never requested a response. Officials from Oakland, East Bay Parks, Alameda County and others say they would have responded if requested, although it’s not clear if their crews would have reached the man before he became unconscious in the water. A passerby eventually waded out to the unconscious man and pulled his body back to shore. Firefighters performed CPR but he did not survive. Read the story and listen to the logging tapes here.

With just four “No” Republican votes, yesterday a U.S. Senate committee approved a bill that would allocate the embattled D Block of spectrum directly to public safety, and now S. 911 goes to the full Senate for final approval, House approval and a possible Presidential signature. Congress originally ordered the 10 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz to be sold to the highest bidder in a Jan. 2008 auction. The winner would then create and operate a nationwide, interoperable public safety wireless network. However, the D Block failed to sell—only one $432 million bid was received for the spectrum, and the reserve price had been set at $1.3 billion. Since then there has been debate, controversy and recommendations to re-auction the spectrum. Finally, several legislators introduced bills that would take the D Block off the auction block and assign it directly to public safety. Today the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) issued congratulations to itself and the Public Safety Alliances for successfully lobbying the bill. APCO asked its members to write letters of thank-you to those who voted for the bill, and “to keep the pressure” on those who voted against the bill: Senators Olympia Snowe (ME-R), Jim DeMint (SC-R), Pat Toomey (PA-R) and Marco Rubio (FL-R). Read APCO’s statement after the break. [click to continue…]

A Bethlehem (NY) police dispatcher has served a 30-day unpaid suspension for threatening co-workers, and now those dispatchers say they’re fearful of what may happen when the dispatcher returns to work. The dispatchers anonymously contacted a local newspaper to say that Eric Kerr was also arrested in April for pointing a handgun at his girlfriend, but that charges were dropped when the girlfriend refused to testify. Kerr is the son of a Bethlehem police sergeant, and his mother is an officer at the department. A long story in the Spotlight newspaper details how the dispatchers refer to Kerr as “Teflon Kerr,” since he’s apparently able to get away with anything without discipline. One dispatcher told the newspaper, “He’s going to come back and he’s going to be angry,” said. He’s going to have a chip on his shoulder. A retired Bethlehem police officer has taken up the dispatchers’ cause and recently interrupted a press conference by a town official to publicize the situation. City officials say they’re aware of the dispatchers’ complaints but decline to comment further since it’s a personnel issue. Read more about Kerr’s past employment and the current situation here. Update: Bethlehem police officials have solved the problem of any future conflicts in the comm center by installing a video camera that also records audio. City officials say the police chief, the city human resources department and dispatchers reached an agreement on the installation, but would not say specifically why it was installed. Police union officials have criticized the camera. Read more about the camera here.

The 911CARES project has confirmed that dispatchers in four states have lost their homes and possessions during last month’s tornadoes, and that several dispatchers and their family members were injured in Missouri. The group has issued a request for assistance, asking the public safety dispatcher community to provide gift cards and other monetary donations. Kevin Willett, who administers the 911CARES program as part of his PSTC training company, says it took time to gather information from the various affected states and agencies, and he believes more dispatchers will come forward with losses in the coming weeks. “Please take up a collection within your center or decide to make a personal donation,” Willett asks. Surf the 911CARES Web site or read the latest activation information for how to help.

Quite simply, the difference between “Daniel Street” and “Daniel Avenue” in Atlanta (Geo.) may have proved fatal to a woman who was accidentally crushed in the demolition of a house. The 51 year-old homeless woman was inside a home slated for demolition when the work crew showed up and began work. When workers discovered the woman had been injured, they dialed 911 and correctly gave the street address of 68 Daniel Street. The unnamed male Atlanta 911 calltaker repeated the correct address. However, when emergency units were dispatched, they were sent to 68 Daniel Avenue, about five miles away. A second 911 caller nine minutes later said no emergency units had arrived, but both the 911 dispatcher and an EMS dispatcher assured the caller that units were enroute. Apparently neither re-confirmed the address with the caller. A few minutes later the 911 and EMS dispatchers conferred on the telephone and discovered the location mistake. An ambulance arrived 18 minutes after the first 911 call. The patient was transported but did not survive. Read more and listen to the 911 calls here.

An off-duty Franklin County (Virg.) sheriff’s deputy is accused of driving his patrol car into a gas station, shooting his ex-wife to death with a patrol rifle, shooting a pursuing state trooper, and then engaging two other troopers before being shot and arrested. But now that Jonathan Agee is in custody, attention—and criticism—has been re-focused on Franklin County sheriff Ewel Hunt, who personally handled notifying an involved police department to be on the look-out for Agree, rather than have dispatchers issue a state-wide alert. Hunt received a call from Agee’s father at 11:04 a.m. on Memorial Day alerting him that Jonathan was “agitated.” Hunt tried to call Dep. Agee, but left voicemail when he didn’t answer. At 11:12 a.m. dispatchers notified Hunt that Agee’s current wife called the comm center, saying Agee had left their house with guns, and said he was enroute to kill his ex-wife. At 11:18 a.m. Hunt called the Salem police asking to speak to a supervisor, and left his number. But Hunt never told the Salem dispatcher he had an urgent situation, nor did he give the dispatcher any information. At 11:31 a.m., a Salem patrol supervisor returned Hunt’s call, at about the same time that Agee was shooting his ex-wife in the city of Roanoke, about eight miles from Salem. Read more about the incident here, and about Hunt’s actions and his defense of how he handled the incident. [click to continue…]

A group of public safety associations has issued a second round of rebuttals on spectrum allocation, this time to “inaccuracies and misrepresentations” made during last week’s Congressional committee hearings on legislation affecting the D Block of frequencies. The Public Safety Alliance (PSA) says there is “a fundamental misunderstanding of public safety,” but did no say who or what group might be providing Congress with inaccurate information. “This is a complex issue,” the PSA said in a press release. “We have neither motive, nor reason to mislead Congress or acquire this spectrum and funding beyond doing our job of protecting the public as efficiently and effectively as possible.” The PSA includes the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO), along with police, sheriffs, emergency management and EMS associations. The group is lobbying to pass federal legislation that would directly allocated the D Block of 800 MHz frequencies directly to public safety to build a nationwide, interoperable radio network. The PSA said, “To perpetuate the myths—or worse, try to rewrite history—is counterproductive and these continued delays will result in the same mistakes of the past that have gotten us here in the first place.” The PSA issued a press release Read the press release after the break. [click to continue…]

Phoenix (Ariz.) Fire Department dispatcher Kendra Schultz recalls a recent incident involving a child pulled from a swimming pool, and when she gave the victim’s father CPR instructions.

After a court ruled that it owes a participating city $600,000 in back sales tax money, the Barry County (Mo.) E911 Board says it may have to declare bankruptcy to keep operating. County officials say the court decision comes at a time when surcharges have decreased $200,000 over the past two years because of the bad economy. The city of Monett sued in Oct. 2009, saying the county and E911 board were not remitting a portion of its 911 fees to the city, collectible under a state redevelopment law. Under that law, cities can claim a certain percentage of taxes and fees to pay for developing blighted areas within their town. In this case, Monett wanted to collect a portion of a 911 fee increase passed after the city implemented its redevelopment plan. A judge ruled for the city earlier this year, and at a recent E911 board meeting officials said they’ve cut spending as much as possible, but still need to provide 24-hour dispatching services. Read more about the situation here, and about the lawsuit here.

A civilian review board has found that a series of dispatcher errors, miscommunications and gang lingo created a 52-minute response delay to a 911 report of a disturbance among teens in West Hartford (Conn.). Police say the disturbance grew and eventually shots were fired, injuring one man. The city’s Civilian Complaint Review board issued a 30-page report that said the police dispatcher who fielded the first 911 call didn’t understand terminology the caller used, including “NBA” (a gang) and “air up my house” (shoot up my house). Consequently, the calltaker classified the incident as a low-priority in CAD. About 30 minutes later the comm center changed shifts, and the on-coming shift believed the incident was a low priority because it had not been dispatched for 30 minutes, and the off-going shift had not briefed them otherwise. Police officials say they’ve changed procedures to better exchange information at shift change, and that dispatchers will receive gang awareness training. Read more about the incident here.

A California appeals court has denied a request by a former California Highway Patrol (CHP) comm center supervisor to be removed from a civil lawsuit alleging he emailed grisly evidence photos of an accident victim to other people, eventually reaching the victim’s family. Nicole Catsouras, 18, crashed her parents Porsche into a toll booth at high speed and was killed in Oct. 2006. Catsouras’ family filed a lawsuit against the CHP and Aaron Reich. The agency investigated the incident and took photos of the scene, including of Catsouras’ body. Reich admits to obtaining the photos through official channels and emailing them to family and friends, but contends the emails included a warning about the dangers of drunk driving. Therefore, Reich’s attorney argued, his client’s distribution of the photos was protected “free speech.” Reich later erased all the emails at the direction of his CHP superiors. A three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeal pointed out that Reich failed to present any of the emails for the court’s evaluation. Therefore, the court ruled, it could not rule if the emails were protected under certain sections of the state’s Civil Code. The court left open the possibility of someone finding and presenting the emails for future court review. Absent that, the civil case against Reich and former supervisor Thomas O’Donnell now goes back to a lower court for trial. Download the appeals court decision here, and a 2010 appeal here. Read more about the decision here.

A boy injured by a camel at the Knoxville (Tenn.) zoo had to wait for medical treatment after miscommunications kept fire and EMS units stalled at the front gate while zoo officials investigated if the camel was loose. The incident, and past incidents at other zoos, highlight the need for close cooperation between zoo personnel and local emergency services to insure safety and a prompt response. In this case the 400-pound camel stumbled in its enclosure, fell over the fence and accidentally struck a child. A woman dialed 911 to report the injury and stated that the camel was loose. She also described the encounter as an “attack,” and that information was relayed by dispatchers. The caller wasn’t kept on the line or closely questioned about the circumstances of the contact or the status of the camel. The caller wasn’t identified and it’s not clear if she notified zoo employees on-scene. Zoo officials say they weren’t aware of the incident until EMS units arrived, and kept the front gate locked for safety. Read more and listen to the 911 call and radio traffic here.

Fire officials in Honolulu (Hi.) say a veteran dispatcher’s profane remark to a 911 caller is unacceptable, but have not said if he will be disciplined. The caller was reporting a horrific explosion and fire inside an underground storage bunker where federal officials had stored confiscated fireworks. Five contract workers died when the fireworks ignited as they were destroying them, apparently by submerging them in diesel fuel. The dispatcher asked the caller several times what was burning, and apparently did not understand that an explosion had occurred. “Don’t you hear it, oh my God,” the caller said. The dispatcher replied, “Okay, I cannot hear fire sir calm down. Calm down sir let me help you you’re not making it any easier.” The caller then said in audible frustration, “I can’t believe this is (expletive) happening to me! Oh my God! Oh my God!” The dispatcher then said, “What a (expletive) idiot.” Fire Capt. Terry Seelig said the dispatcher,” is very upset at himself and how this was done.” Read more of the call transcript here.

The town of Selma (Calif.) is entangled in the aftermath of a fatal fire, trying to reconstruct a timeline of how its police and fire departments responded to the incident, and what role the state’s CAL FIRE agency might have played in a delayed response. City officials say transients living in a vacant house started a fire, and that three persons were trapped inside. A 911 from an occupant went to Selma PD, who contacted CAL FIRE, who then dispatched fire units. The caller mentioned that people were trapped in the house. Since the house was within feet of the city line, CAL FIRE requested Selma FD to respond. But when the police dispatcher contacted the fire captain on duty, he/she didn’t mention trapped people, only that CAL FIRE had requested assistance. At the time, the Selma FD ambulance was out of service, limiting the engine staffing. So the fire captain declined to respond with only one person on the engine. The fire captain now says he would have responded had he known people were trapped. City officials say the police dispatcher is not currently the subject of discipline. Read the story and a timeline here.