Dallas investigates claims of delayed response to 911 fire calls




Posted on July 4, 2012 at 5:53 PM

Updated Thursday, Jul 5 at 10:45 AM

DALLAS — This is not a happy Fourth of July for a Dallas family whose home was destroyed in an overnight fire.

But along with the sadness of losing nearly everything, they're angry the city didn't respond sooner to 911 calls for help, a situation one City Council member is calling a "mistake."

Dallas police said they are investigating whether there was a delay in responding to 911 calls when the fire broke out at the home in the 1900 block of Berwick Avenue around 12:30 a.m.

A city statement late Wednesday said a preliminary review found no technical programs with the 911 system or the AT&T network trunk lines.

By daylight, Melanie Harper sadly surveyed her sister's collapsed home, wondering what a faster response might have meant.

"If they had came in a timely manner, there would have been some loss — but not everything," she said.

The fire broke out in the back of the house sometime before 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, according to Dora Fuller, who escaped with her husband and son after the smoke alarms went off.

They asked neighbors to call 911, and Raymond DeLeon said he and his wife did about 12:32 a.m.

"We continued to call and call and nobody answered," he said.

So DeLeon went to nearby Fire Station No. 23, pounding on the door and ringing the emergency bell. "I mean, I'm ringing the doorbell and nobody would come to the door," he said. "I'm like, 'What's going on?'"

Dallas Fire-Rescue confirms it received a 911 call at 12:41 a.m. and the first truck arrived four minutes later.

The home is in the district of City Council member Dwaine Caraway, who said there is an unexplained time gap from the time the 911 calls were made and the time they were received.

"These calls at 911 went unanswered for about five minutes," he said. "That is major, the concern that I have, and what we will have to review and correct."

The cell phones belonging to DeLeon and his wife show no outgoing calls to 911, but he said a call back from the city was received at 12:40 a.m.

The police department oversees 911 operations and it is "looking into this incident."

For Fuller, the result remains the same — a near-total loss.

"I think you should be able to get 911. If you don't get anything else, you ought to be able to get 911," she said.

Damage has been set at $34,000.

Fortunately, everyone in her house escaped without injury. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Late Wednesday, Dallas Police released this statement regarding the fire:

July 4th Fire Incident

On July 4, 2012 at about 12:36 a. m., a house fire occurred in the 1900 block of Berwick in Dallas.  Between 12:30 a.m. and 12:45 a.m. a total of 177 calls came into the 911 center.
When a spike in calls for service occurs, there is a recording that answers the line when all operators are busy.  The recording advises the caller not to hang up and to wait for the next available operator.  The capacity of the recording line is thirteen callers in excess of the number of 911 call takers. In this case, if all thirteen 911 callers were busy, an additional thirteen callers, for a total of twenty-six, could be connected either to an operator or on hold.  At one point during the fifteen minute period between 12:30 am and 12:45 a.m. there were forty-four calls holding.
A call by call review revealed that a 911 call first came in from the area of the fire at 12:36:09 a.m.  The caller hung up prior to reaching a 911 operator.  When this occurs, the 911 operator will call back the individual that dialed 911.  When the 911 operator did this, they reached the caller’s voice mail.  Six additional 911 hang-up calls came in from the area during the next three minutes, several within seconds of each other.  During this time, 911 operators attempted to call back two additional times and each time were connected to voicemail.  At 12:39:27 a.m., a caller dialed 911 and hung up prior to reaching an operator; the operator called back two seconds later at 12:39:29 a.m. and reached a caller who then reported the fire on Berwick.  The call was transferred to Dallas Fire Rescue immediately.  Unfortunately, this caller was unable to provide an exact location for the fire.  An additional 911 call came in and was transferred to DFR.  This caller was able to provide an accurate location and DFR assigned their first unit to respond to the location at 12:42:21 a.m.  This unit arrived at the location of the fire two minutes, forty-two seconds later at 12:45:03 a.m.  Dallas Fire Rescues’ goal is to arrive at a fire within five minutes, thirty seconds of receipt of a 911 call.  In this case, 911 first became aware of the fire at 12:39:29 a.m. and DFR arrived at the fire at 12:45:03 a.m., five minutes and thirty-four seconds later.
It appears that the spike in calls during this time frame contributed to the caller(s) being unable to immediately reach a 911 call taker.  The police department had already anticipated that call load could spike due to the holiday and had increased the number of 911 call takers from nine to thirteen by holding over several call takers from the previous shift. This number is consistent with the amount of call takers on-duty at this time last July 4th.  

The cause of the fire is still under investigation by DFR. 


E-mail bwatson@wfaa.com