Cummins Falls 911 call raises questions about language barriers - WSMV News 4

Cummins Falls 911 call raises questions about language barriers

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Officials say the water rose three feet in a matter of minutes. (WSMV) Officials say the water rose three feet in a matter of minutes. (WSMV)
NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

Do 911 centers have the ability to understand callers who don't speak English?

Last month, dozens of people had to be rescued from Cummins Falls after the water rose three feet in three minutes..The News 4 I-Team has the 911 calls made that day and one call in particular raises question.

In one of the calls made that day, a man stuck inside Cummins Falls asked to talk to someone who speaks Spanish.

The I-Team wanted to know how 911 centers throughout the area handle calls where the person on the other end doesn't speak English.

This is one of the 911 calls from inside the park that day.

“Jackson County Dispatch,” the dispatcher answered.

“Do you have somebody that speaks Spanish?” the caller asked.

“Do what sir?” the dispatcher asked.

“Do you have somebody who speaks Spanish?” the caller asked again.

“No,” the dispatcher said.

When the Jackson County dispatcher said no one there spoke Spanish, the man continued doing his best to describe what was happening.

“We're here stuck. There's a lot of people stuck in the middle so you can maybe send help over here,” the man said.

“We've got them. We've got everybody paged out and they're in route to you. And some of them are already there at the park so they should be down quickly,” the dispatcher said.

"He could speak English but I would say he would be more comfortable speaking Spanish,” said Jackson County Communications Director Michael Smith.

Smith said out of their eight dispatchers none of them speak anything other than English. But he said they use a language service for non-English speaking callers.

“Why not transfer him to that call service at that time?” the I-Team asked.

“Because we could understand him. That's just another 30 seconds of transfer if it had been something major. If we couldn't understand anything he or she had said then yes, we would do that,” Smith said.

This prompted the I-Team to look into how other 911 centers handle calls similar to this. Here’s a call from an apartment complex in East Nashville two weeks ago.

“There's a woman here who they say a man assaulted, and so I just like wandered upon the scene. Her face is really swollen,” the caller said.

“Her face is swollen?" the dispatcher asked.

“Yes,” the caller said.

“Can you ask her, do you know how to speak Spanish?” the dispatcher asked.

“I don't. I'm sorry. I actually have a translator on her way here for my own story but she's not here yet,” said the woman on the phone with the dispatcher.

This was another case where the 911 dispatcher didn’t transfer the call and use the language service.

Like the Jackson County 911 center, Nashville’s Emergency Communications Center said they too use a language service. Out of 149 dispatchers, we’re told it’s unknown how many, if any, speak another language, including Spanish.

The I-Team also checked in with Rutherford, Williamson and Putnam counties. Spokespeople all said speaking another language is not a requirement.

“My dispatchers make $10.50 an hour. It's not in my training budget to send them to speak another language,” Smith said.

The I-team reached out to the Nashville Emergency Communications Center to ask them why they didn't use the language service for that other call. The assistant director said it's because the victim had people there able to translate for her.

We’re also told emergency crews were dispatched two minutes into that call while the dispatcher continued to ask questions.

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