Friday, April 07, 2006

911 Operators Need to Take it Seriously

I realize that 911 operators must get many non-emergent calls. There are enough idiotic people out there in our nation to ensure that someone utilizes our emergency system as a stripped down version of Onstar. For as many true distress calls as they receive, operators also field prank calls and stupid questions. I'm it is a high stress career, given that a large number of calls are related to crimes and accidents. Nevertheless, I'm even more confident that a 911 operator should treat every call as if it was truly a crisis.

A six year old in Detroit called 911 when he found his mother collapsed and not breathing on the kitchen floor. He explained to the 911 person that he found her passed out on the floor. The exasperated operator did not believe it was a bona fide call and admonished the boy, telling him to stop playing. She also asked "Where's the grownups at?" and when his answer was too faint to make out she scolded him further and threatened him. When he didn't put an adult on the phone she decided on her own that he was making a prank phone call.

Her words? "I don't care. You shouldn't be playing on the phone. Now put her on the phone before I send the police out there to knock on the door and you gonna be in trouble." This scared little Robert Turner badly enough that he hung up. Who wouldn't, when you're a child and terrified and calling for help only to be berated and made to feel as if you are doing something wrong?

His mother? Died lying on the floor of the kitchen with her son helpless to do anything but be by her side.

It's a sad, sad nation when the very people in positions to provide assistance are such jaded and cynical people. This 911 operator's personality--and character--caused a lack of medical attention that may or may not have made a difference to the life of Sherel Turner but would have given one small boy the confidence that someone was striving to answer his plea for help.

The dispatcher's union states that the operator will be disciplined but not dismissed from her job, due to her years of service. At first I wondered if the punishment was enough but then realized that unless this woman has a completely hardened heart, she will have to live out her life knowing that her inaction had a severe impact. We teach our children to call 911 if it's an emergency. Even if it is found that Turner wouldn't have survived after receiving medical attention, the operator's reaction to the call is bound to foster distrust in the heart of Robert Turner.

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