Dallas 911 improvements coming after slow house fire response

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by BRAD WATSON

WFAA

Posted on August 14, 2012 at 5:58 PM

Updated Tuesday, Aug 14 at 6:26 PM

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DALLAS — A fire that destroyed Dora Fuller and her family's central Oak Cliff home on July 4 pointed out a 911 weakness when emergency calls spike — like the night of a holiday.

Neighbors said they repeatedly called 911 a over six-minute period, only to hear the line ring and ring, and they hung up.

The city explained a spike in call volume forced some callers to wait, but the city promised improvements which are now on the way.

Dallas will spend $70,000 in the coming budget to prevent what happened that night, according to Dallas Assistant City Manager A.C. Gonzalez.

"One of the things we're looking to do is reduce the amount of time that people would be hearing a ring before someone would pick up," Gonzalez said.

So when 911 lines are open, a caller will get ringing for no more than 15 seconds, instead of the 30 seconds currently programmed.

On the night of the fire at Fuller's home, a wave of calls occupied the 13 call-takers and the 13 back-up lines with a recorded message to hold on.

Police said at one point 44 calls were on hold.

With the improvements, the recorded lines will nearly double to 24. But in a crunch, there's still the chance a caller will get ringing and must not hang up to avoid losing the place in line.

"You feel that we've got enough money in there to minimize the chances of the situation that happened in Mr. Caraway's neighborhood?" Mayor Mike Rawlings asked during a budget briefing on Tuesday.

"It will improve that situation, yes sir," Gonzalez replied.

But the mayor pressed, asking how much better the 911 system would be.

"Significantly," Gonzalez replied.

Dora Fuller now lives with relatives, and through a city program, hopes to rebuild on her lot. Her family still believes a quicker response would have limited the damage.

"We're hurt because we lost a family home, but if the city wants to improve and help the city as a whole, we're for that," said Fuller's sister, Melanie Harper. "We support that."

The 911 upgrades should be complete by mid-October.

Fuller didn't carry insurance on her home. The Fuller family started a trust fund to raise money and help her rebuild. The account is at the JP Morgan Chase Bank, 1522 West Pleasant Run Road, Lancaster, Texas, 75146.

E-mail bwatson@wfaa.com

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