Council member calls 911 fire call delay 'a mistake'

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by SHON GABLES

Bio | Email | Follow: @shongables

WFAA

Posted on July 4, 2012 at 8:22 AM

Updated Wednesday, Jul 4 at 1:06 PM

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DALLAS — The Dallas fire department and the city's 911 emergency phone service are taking a lot of heat after fire destroyed a home in South Dallas early Wednesday morning.

Residents say despite repeated and numerous calls for help, it took almost 10 minutes before those calls were answered in the 1900 block of Berwick Avenue.

"This is a mistake. This is something that's unfortunate," said City Council member Dwaine Caraway, who represents the neighborhood. "This is something that we have to deal with with 911 with a very slow pickup of the phone calls that came in to 911 that seemingly went unanswered."

Dora Fuller — who had lived in the home for more than 30 years — said she had never had a problem with emergency services in Dallas until now. She believes their slow response time cost her her home — but thankfully not her life.

"I just hate it took the fire department so long to get here," she said.

Just after midnight, smoke alarms detected a fire in Fuller's residence, giving her family time to safely exit and to call 911 from a neighbor's home.

Raymond Delon, who lives next door, decided to run two blocks to the Fire Station No. 23 after attempts to call 911 failed to go through. But that proved to be an exercise in frustration.

"I mean, I was ringing the doorbell and nobody would come to the door," he said. "So I'm like, 'What's going on? This is a fire department; ain't somebody here on duty 24/7?'"

As Delon was desperately trying to get help, his wife tried to call 911 six times. His sister-in-law also called six times. After numerous attempts beginning at 12:32 a.m., it was 12:41 before anyone could speak with a dispatcher — a full nine minutes later.

"How are you supposed to feel safe when you can't count on them to be here on time?" Delon asked. "Just look — this house speaks for itself."

News 8 has placed calls to the city's 911 service as well as to Dallas Fire-Rescue to ask what the typical response time is.

Fire Station No. 23, which serves the area, confirmed that someone was heard ringing its doorbell, but by the time they opened the door, no one was there. Representatives said once they were assigned to fight the fire, it took less than three minutes to arrive.

But by then, it was too late.

Dora Fuller's home, built in 1945, is destroyed. She was able to spare a few photographs, but nothing else. Fuller hopes the fire department and emergency dispatchers are held accountable for the delay.

"No one should have to go through this," Fuller said. "They need to improve their communication and response time."

Councilman Caraway promised that City Hall is listening.

"You have only one opportunity... you could have a heart attack; it could be a wreck; it could be anything, a fire like this," he said. "When that phone call that's made to 911, 911 should immediately pick it up. And then — at that point — then make a determination as to the priority of that call."

E-mail sgables@wfaa.com

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