Communications & Dispatch, News, Trauma

State Audit Sought for Dispatch Center that Put Disabled Woman on Hold

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — In the aftermath of its dispatchers’ mishandling of a Jan. 29 distress call from a disabled woman who died in a Doylestown house fire, Bucks County (Pa.) will ask the state Emergency Management Agency to audit its 911 center.

“That will be a universal review from an outside independent agency,” county Commissioner Chairman James Cawley said after the commissioners meeting Wednesday.

Brenda Orr, 53, who had multiple sclerosis, died when her bed caught fire. The blaze eventually gutted her house. Fire officials suspect the fire was caused by a cigarette.

Orr called 911 at 10:31 a.m. to get help, but her call was allowed to ring six times before it was picked up, then put on hold.

Twenty-six seconds passed before a second dispatcher took over the call, asking Orr for her address, asking her to leave the house and then, after two minutes and nine seconds had elapsed, dispatching fire and rescue services.

The county completed its own report on the call last week, revealing 10 dispatchers were unoccupied, but none answered Orr’s call, which was eventually answered “out of frustration” by a dispatcher who was on an ambulance call.

The report determined Orr’s call should never have been allowed to ring six times or be put on hold.

The county disciplined 11 dispatchers and four supervisors for their role in botching the call, and vowed to implement policies and procedures to prevent similar problems.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union has filed a grievance on behalf of the disciplined dispatchers.

Newtown resident Greg Garber told Cawley at the commissioners meeting that the 10 dispatchers’ failure to answer the call didn’t make sense, and wondered why they all acted the same way.

Cawley said Wednesday the county continues to look into exactly what happened and its investigation into the events of Jan. 29 is ongoing.

“We still are looking at every detail we possibly can…” Cawley said.

In the letter to Robert Wentzel, PEMA’s director of 911 programs, Cawley said he wants the agency to evaluate the county’s internal quality assurance efforts.

The time elapsed between Orr’s call and the fire department being dispatched was less than the average for residential fire calls in January, county officials have said.

County fire officials have determined the delay in answering Orr’s call probably did not contribute to her death because the fire was well advanced by the time she called 911.

Wentzel could not be reached for comment Wednesday.