Archive for Friday, February 17, 2006

911 dispatcher made mistake with fire call

February 17, 2006

In the aftermath of Monday's fire that destroyed the home of Bill and Jane Stotts, the questions of how a minor fire developed into a major one centered around a 911 call that was first dispatched to Lawrence, rather than Baldwin City where the call originated from, and the valuable time lost because of it.

The call was made from a Baldwin land line, not a cellular phone, which might have caused confusion.

"I started to call with the cell phone, but said, 'no, this is a 911 call,'" Jane Stotts said Friday. "I told Nathan (her son) to grab the cordless phone to call as we were leaving."

The call was made reporting the fire at 818 Indiana. There are similar addresses in both Lawrence and Baldwin. When the Lawrence Fire Department reached the address there, there was no fire. That's when dispatch made the second call that it was a Baldwin fire.

In the meantime, the Stottses moved their cars out of the driveway and watched smoke billow out of the house. Although she doesn't know how long it was from the time the call was made until the Baldwin Fire Department made the two block trek from the fire station to the house, it seemed like forever, she said.

"I had no idea why it took so long," said Stotts. "People need to know this. We lost our house. If the fire department had been there when we called, those first few minutes would have made a huge difference."

Stotts didn't know about the call being misdirected until she read it in Thursday's Signal.

"That explained a lot," she said. "We were feeling frustrated by the fire department until I found out about the call."

The fire started in an upstairs bedroom. A burning candle was the cause. The Stottses smelled smoke and saw it coming down the staircase. That's when they grabbed the phone and ran. Nathan made the call to 911.

"I asked him about what he said and he said 'I just said our house is on fire. We're at 818 Indiana,'" she said. "That's exactly why we used the cordless."

Marjorie Hedden, shift supervisor for Douglas County Emergency, said Friday that the dispatcher made a mistake. She knows it became a problem.

"We know that, obviously," said Hedden. "Unfortunately, our dispatcher didn't get the number right. It was an unfortunate mistake all the way around. It was a complete mistake by our dispatcher. Unfortunately, mistakes happen."

She said it caused a seven minute delay in response. The 911 call came in at 3:46 p.m. At 3:53 p.m. the second dispatch was made after it was discovered not to be a Lawrence fire.

The fire destroyed the $123,000 home. Since Monday, the Stottses have been staying at the Lodge. They have been overwhelmed by the community's response, she said.

"The community really reached out to us even before we knew what we needed," said Stotts. "It's been wonderful community support. That is the real joy of a small community."

The Signal will continue to update the story online and a complete story will be in next week's issue of the Signal. The Baldwin City Council is expected to address the fire at its meeting Monday.

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