Site Now Fenced in: 911 dispatcher ge...

Site Now Fenced in: 911 dispatcher gets angry calls after fire

There are 11 comments on the Charlotte.com story from Nov 1, 2007, titled Site Now Fenced in: 911 dispatcher gets angry calls after fire. In it, Charlotte.com reports that:

“Those [dispatchers] are strong individuals.”

N.C. blaze killed 7 College students The 911 dispatcher who fielded the first reports of the house fire that claimed the lives of seven S.C. college students on Sunday is now receiving threatening calls for her handling of the blaze, her supervisor said.

Tom Rogers, deputy director of the Brunswick County's Emergency Services who oversees the call center, said he does not believe the call was mishandled.

He declined to name the dispatcher, but said she'd been with the department for three or four years. Read more

Join the discussion below, or Read more at Charlotte.com.

M Fisher

Norfolk, VA

#1 Nov 2, 2007
I have both EMS and dispatching experience in another state where some years ago we had two children lost in a fire due to negligent handling of a 911 call. So, I have listened very carefully to this one as well as reading everything I have been able to regarding witnesses, timing, etc, and with a critical eye. However, based upon only those things, I do not perceive that her performance was below reasonable; we need to realize that the caller was initially unclear about either the nature of the emergency or location, although he was certainly in good faith and trying to help. I couldn't understand that street name either hearing him say it on the first pass. We all wish this had had a better outcome. In my opinion, efforts at prevention, fire retardation and earlier detection (I fear that fire had been underway for a while) would be better ways to keep such a tragedy from happening again. And whether there could have been better performance or not, through such a tragedy, we can all be assured that the 911 center folks will learn how to do even better with a very difficult role. Our hearts up here in Virginia are with you folks in this time of loss.

“Mostly Harmless”

Since: Jul 07

South Carolina

#2 Nov 2, 2007
M Fisher wrote:
I have both EMS and dispatching experience in another state where some years ago we had two children lost in a fire due to negligent handling of a 911 call. So, I have listened very carefully to this one as well as reading everything I have been able to regarding witnesses, timing, etc, and with a critical eye. However, based upon only those things, I do not perceive that her performance was below reasonable; we need to realize that the caller was initially unclear about either the nature of the emergency or location, although he was certainly in good faith and trying to help. I couldn't understand that street name either hearing him say it on the first pass. We all wish this had had a better outcome. In my opinion, efforts at prevention, fire retardation and earlier detection (I fear that fire had been underway for a while) would be better ways to keep such a tragedy from happening again. And whether there could have been better performance or not, through such a tragedy, we can all be assured that the 911 center folks will learn how to do even better with a very difficult role. Our hearts up here in Virginia are with you folks in this time of loss.
I appreciate your insight on this matter. I think my main problem the attitude she showed the man. He was obviously trying to fight down panic and keep his head, and she was belittling him.
Then he kept having to repeat himself. He said that he needs her to call the fire department, that the house is entirely in flames, and she says that he needs to tell her what the problem is.
I don't have the experience that you do, but that just seemed wrong to me. I'm glad that it seems that despite her attitude she dispatched the fire department in a timely manner. I'm sure her job is hard but her attitude just rubbed me (and apparantly many others) the wrong way.
Mark Fisher

Norfolk, VA

#3 Nov 3, 2007
FOUR THOUGHTS:

1. I do agree that she wasn't very courteous, but the test needs to be getting the information out of a caller successfully. In the recording, the "dead air" and strange conversation at the outset makes me wonder if the caller spoke something before they were fully connected and didn't realize it.

2. It seems like GPS locations on incoming cell phone calls (they already get locations on land line 911 calls automatically in what we unsed call enhanced-911 service) would have helped Brunswick County 911 center on this.

3. I sent a suggestion to the Brunswick County folks that, if they aren't already doing it, a school bus tour of the communities around the county every so often could be real beneficial to ALL dispatchers, maybe even let the firefighters be tour guides in each area. We often see firefighters in our area out checking hydrants, etc., and it is logical that familiarity, ability to visualize from memory helps all our human skills.

4. We are hearing a lot about sprinklers, but cost and time will make practical improvement in risk and more potential losses take a while at best. On the other hand, fire sensors and alarm systems which notify the fire department or a monitoring center are nowhere near as costly or difficult to add, and can also be combined with security systems, perhaps making them even more palatable to homeowners. Possibly in this case, and certainly with an unoccupied structure, its seems likely that timely and accurate notification to the authorities may provide big benefits for not a lot of money. Occupants could also have perhaps activated a panic button on the way out. Every homeowner who is thanking God this wasn't their home should perhaps reflect on such a modest investment NOW.
Again, In talking with friends, we share the grief up here, and hope such ideas and comments can be helpful.

“Mostly Harmless”

Since: Jul 07

South Carolina

#4 Nov 4, 2007
How possible is your suggestion #2? I've heard about that being used for possible abductions and the like, but is that possible for 911 calls?
I love your suggestion #3. That may have helped here...I wondered about that when the dispatcher said that she didn't know that area. However, wouldn't it be more important for the fire department (and other emergency crew) to know where that is than the person who is just on the phone? But at the same time, yes, it would have helped had she been familiar with the area.

Your shared grief is appreciated. The state of South Carolina feels that we lost 7 of our family members.
M Fisher

Norfolk, VA

#5 Nov 4, 2007
LadyBug42 wrote:
How possible is your suggestion #2? I've heard about that being used for possible abductions and the like, but is that possible for 911 calls?
I love your suggestion #3. That may have helped here...I wondered about that when the dispatcher said that she didn't know that area. However, wouldn't it be more important for the fire department (and other emergency crew) to know where that is than the person who is just on the phone? But at the same time, yes, it would have helped had she been familiar with the area.
Your shared grief is appreciated. The state of South Carolina feels that we lost 7 of our family members.
I am semi-retired, so I am not totally up on the cellfone GPS thing. I know it has been discussed, how much it is now available and how quick does it or would it really work are good questions.

The touring around thing is one of those things that sometimes you have to step back to consider. We had school principals and teachers take such a ride-around and they felt it very valuable to see the many different environments the kids in today's a large school districts come from. Years ago, our dispatchers were often disabled or retired field workers, but these days it is a compelete profession. Very little cost to add such orientation, especially if done as part of a social-get acquainted type function. The bigger and more diverse the county or service area, the more valuable I would think.

Surely the pain of this tragedy will be eased a little if some better hope and safety for the future comes out of what feels like such a senseless loss. Taking time to think things out and chat like this is a form of expressing our love.

“Mostly Harmless”

Since: Jul 07

South Carolina

#6 Nov 5, 2007
I fully agree with your sentiment that something good needs to come out of this. My hope is that they can also figure out what happened inside the house that made it go up in flames so quickly, and change that in other homes. I'm going to sit back and wait with that, however. And a bit of a renewal of the 911 system wouldn't hurt, either. People keep saying it needs updating, but it takes a tragedy for something to ever be done about it.
M Fisher

Norfolk, VA

#7 Nov 5, 2007
This is speculation, but there may be could be some logic to it. There were some statements that cigarette smoking was limited to outdoors, perhaps primarily on the deck. These seem like pretty well-mannered and responsible young people, and there could have been a "no smoking" indoors thing in practice. I think most of us usually think of an outdoor smoking area as safer for both health and fire risk reasons.

However, if a fire did get started out there after everyone went indoors, it logically would not have activated indoor smoke detectors, nor maybe be noticed by anyone indoors or others outdoors on back side of house initially. It would have spread up the wooden siding perhaps insulation as well, and into the critical attic area. The attics are locations where many housing structure fires get on a major roll, often undetected for a while.

All of that would explain what seemed to be a rapid spread and/or a period of non-detection, as well as why the heaviest damage was upstairs (a level higher than the deck) and at the western rear (deck area).

In that scenario, even sprinklers and monitoring alarms would have had to overcome the fire's head start on that timeline. Fire block materials, particularly in eaves/attic area, would likely have made a difference if that is what happened.
gamecock in KY

Louisville, KY

#8 Nov 5, 2007
M Fisher, that makes sense. When the initial reports came out that everyone who died was on the top floor except one jumper and that some of the victims were found in bathtubs, my heart broke at the thought that they tried to escape and couldnt.

But apparently everyone was found in their beds and the examiner concluded they died from smoke inhalation, so it appears they never knew what was going on (thank God).

The only explanation for everyone on the bottom floor waking up and those on the top floor not is that the smoke had to be worse there. Thus the theory that the attic and top floors were hit hardest first makes sense. This appears to coincide with the pictures of the house during and after the fire.

I know it's just speculation and it won't bring anyone back, but I hope and pray that the smoke really did encapacitate these kids before any of them had a chance to know what was happening to them.

“Mostly Harmless”

Since: Jul 07

South Carolina

#9 Nov 5, 2007
That makes sense. It would explain why the alarms did not go off until the fire was too far along. It would also explain why it was the kids on the top floor that did not get out. They were probably already overcome by the smoke. I just hope that they didn't suffer.
Like you said, these seemed like responsible young men and women, that didn't want the house they were allowed to stay in to smell like smoke. I am still hoping for faulty wiring, myself. The thought that a carelessly flung cigarette caused this tragedy is rather staggering.
M Fisher

Norfolk, VA

#10 Nov 6, 2007
I read somewhere that there were 6 smokers of the 13, so some may be among the survivors. I also thought about how some of these individuals could be wondering/worrying whether they could have possibly been the person(s) with discarding cigarette(s) or smoking material which was not fully-extinguished, etc. Even in that circumstance, which is merely conjecture at this point, we need to remember that aggravating conditions would have critically added to the end result. I think lacking evidence or a witness to the contrary, it is a stretch to assume that any smoking materials which may have been the source were carelessly discarded. It is logical that the higher-than-normal winds, to which visitors would not even be necessarily familiar, could have fanned something flammable back to life after they went indoors. Additionally, the extraordinarily dry weather conditions may have made other things much for likely to catch fire than normal.

I would be surprised if defective wiring surfaces; the timing seems just too strange. However, one could reasonably assume that experienced smokers probably took their normal precautions in putting out their smoking materials, and that there was no visible indication of fire lurking when they went indoors, if that is indeed, what happened. While I have to agree that a "carelessly flung cigarette" isn't out of the question, such behavior seems just plain sloppy from a housekeeping angle, and hopefully, inconsistent with respectful treatment of the vacation home and property that seemed to be the protocol for the weekend.

My hopes run all the lines of future prevention and healing. I hope that blame or guilt ultimately does not have to fall upon or be assumed by anyone, as it seems they all (including the homeowner and family) have suffered so much already. Despite advertising from lawyers which seems to indicate otherwise, I think most of us know in our hearts that sometimes bad things happen, but no one was negligent, and blame can not be fairly assigned to anyone.

That type of situation often leaves us feeling unsettled, as the human brain naturally seeks truth. However, many types of faith teach us that it isn't meant for us to understand everything in our time on this earth, no matter how hard that may be to accept.





“Mostly Harmless”

Since: Jul 07

South Carolina

#11 Nov 6, 2007
It would seem that everything points to this being from a cigarette...the fire investigators seem desperate to rule it out, but can't seem to. They probably feel the same way: That these kids and the family have suffered enough without the added thought that they might be responsible for "killing" seven of their friends. You may be right in that wind and dry conditions helped fan a spark back to life, and if the kids were tired perhaps they didn't put the cigarette out like they thought they had.
Other than that, your post said it all. I can add nothing to it. Just a sad, sad situation all around.

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