Blind woman told to wait after dialing 911 - WSMV Channel 4

Blind woman told to wait after dialing 911

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

It could be a fire, an injury or an intruder. When emergency strikes, you dial 911 and expect to get help. In Davidson County, most of the time, that's exactly what happens.

But, when a woman's home caught fire Wednesday, she called and got a recording telling her to wait, and it turns out this was not an isolated case.  

"I'm going to tell you it was so fast," said Peggy Ivie.

Ivie could hear the blaze in her Bellevue home.

"I'm hearing cracking, and popping and the smoke alarm," said Ivie.

But she couldn't see it because Ivie is legally blind.

She reached for her phone, dialed 911 and instead of hearing, "911, what's your emergency?" Ivie got a recording.

"They said, 'You've reached 911. Do not hang up you'll lose your place in line,'" said Ivie.

Ivie said she stayed on the line waiting for human contact.  Meanwhile, she struggled to find her two dogs and get out.

A neighbor heard her screams and helped them down the ramp.

"I think it's very, very important to realize that, just because you call 911, doesn't mean they will answer immediately," said Ivie.

Looking at the damage, Ivie's mind is full of "what ifs." What if she had to wait a minute or two longer? What if she had called from a land line? What if instead of a fire, it had been an intruder?

"Hold please while he slits my throat?" said Ivie.

Channel 4 went to the Emergency Communication Center for answers.

Managers there said people are not put on hold, but if there are more calls than call takers, those needing help are put in line.

"While they're in that que, they'll receive a recording telling them not to hang up from 911 because when they call back, it basically puts them in the back of the line of other callers," said Bruce Sanschagrin, the operations administrative manager at the ECC.

Sanschagrin said during peak shifts they have, on average, 10 to 13 dispatchers answering both emergency and non emergency calls. They staff based on historic call volumes and do the best they can with the resources they have.

"Is money worth the life of a human being and is that economics? And if that's the case, I don't think it should be that way. I think calls should be answered within seconds," said Ivie. 

Ivie called three times during the fire.  Twice she hung up, then she waited the third time for a total of two minutes and 15 seconds. 

Sanschagrin said while she was waiting, dispatchers were attempting to return her first two calls.

If you do hang up, the 911 center still receives your caller information.

Dispatchers will try calling back a minimum of three times before sending a police unit, but the response time will be delayed.

Sanschagrin said, if at all possible, it's really important to stay on the line.

There were 26 other calls coming in during the time of the fire.

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