Archive for Thursday, February 23, 2006

Misdirected 911 call at issue

February 23, 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. Baldwin fire fighters arrived shortly after 4 p.m.

"That's critical," Stotts said of the time delay, noting that had the firemen arrived sooner, chances are the fire wouldn't have spread nearly as much. "That's extremely critical. That was the thing. As far as the community's concerns over everything that happened, we did make the call on the home phone.

The fire destroyed the $123,000 home where the Stottses have lived since 1989. Since last Monday, the Stottses have been staying at the Lodge after they were put up there by their insurance agent, Mike Sloan. 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.

"People have said, 'anything you need, just let us know' and they've done that," she said. "We're just trying to make sense of the chaos. Fortunately, we were ablet to get the majority of our family photos and some family heirloom quilts that were meaningful. So far, that's all."

As for the whole experience, which continues to unfold, it's left Stotts stunned.

"It was like nothing I've ever been through before," she said. "I've seen friends go through fires before, but you can't imagine what you go through."

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