DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – The emergency response to an early morning July 4 blaze that claimed a home has a Dallas City Councilman calling for an investigation of the city’s 911 system.
According to police records, it took five minutes for an operator to connect with a caller who could provide an accurate location for the fire.
“The problem I have is that the calls were not answered,” said Dallas council member Dwaine Caraway.
As flames devoured their home, Dora and Horace Fuller say every moment seemed to last a lifetime.
“I could just sit there and watch as time went by,” said Dora Fuller.
It was the home they had planned to grow old in, and they always felt a little safer knowing there was a fire station just a block away. Wednesday morning, at 12:30 a.m. though, it didn’t seem to help.
The couple says neighbors tried calling 911, but couldn’t get through to an operator.
Dallas police say the call center was handling a spike in calls due to the Fourth of July. It was a problem police anticipated, and they prepared, increasing the number of operators from the usual nine to 13.
Still, the calls poured in. Between 12:30 a.m. and 12:45 a.m. police say they received 177 calls. At one point, 44 of them were on hold.
Police say calls that couldn’t be answered immediately should have gotten a recording asking them to hold. They say callers from the area near the fire, though, were hanging up before an operator could reach them.
Caraway says he plans to ask the city to look into the incident. He’s worried not just about this fire, but how 911 would handle something even bigger.
“A larger scale disaster or catastrophic condition –– how much, how well are we equipped to handle a 911 emergency?,” he said.
Staffing at the city’s 911 call center doesn’t vary greatly from most cities of a comparable size. San Jose, Calif. is the next largest U.S. city after Dallas.
On Wednesday morning, it had twelve operators answering 911 calls. Houston, meanwhile, with a population nearly twice the size of Dallas, had 36 operators, almost three times as many that day.
The Fullers aren’t sure what the solution is, but they say there needs to be one.
“I don’t think that should happen to anyone else, what happened to me,” said Dora Fuller.