May 2, 2022 - News

Response to Dallas apartment fire delayed by 911 call center error

Illustration of Dallas City Hall with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Emergency crews were delayed responding to a large apartment fire last month in Far Northeast Dallas because of a high call volume and the 911 dispatcher mislabeling the call, according to a city memo.

Why it matters: Dallas has struggled to fix its 911 call center for years, and delays can mean life or death in emergency situations.

Driving the news: It took six minutes to assign a crew to respond to a blaze in April and nine minutes total for firefighters to arrive at a Forest Lane apartment complex where 24 units were destroyed and 100 people were displaced, WFAA reported.

  • "This should raise some serious questions amongst members of the department and the public as to why this happened. Every minute of delay, the fire doubles in size," Dallas Fire Fighters Association President Jim McDade told WFAA.

What happened: The 911 call about the fire was received shortly after 9:52 pm on April 19 but couldn't be immediately transferred to Dallas Fire-Rescue because of a large number of calls the department dispatchers were already handling, the memo said.

  • Then a dispatcher entered the wrong code, and the call was incorrectly added to a queue for lower-demand calls.
  • The computer system the call center uses alerts dispatchers when a call is close to another incident, and the dispatcher "erroneously" added the fire emergency to a medical call nearby.
  • A DFR dispatcher noticed the issue and firefighters were dispatched, six minutes after the initial call.

What's next: The fire department and 911 call center leadership will ensure high-priority calls are correctly transferred, dispatchers will be trained on properly coding calls and DFR will improve training on when to add calls to other nearby emergencies.

What they're saying: "While there were errors and delays in the processing of this call, I am confident this is an isolated incident," deputy city manager Jon Fortune wrote in the memo to City Council.

  • He said the improvements and additional training will mean Dallas residents can “continue to place their trust” in Dallas Fire-Rescue and the 911 call center.

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