• Firefighters say 911 dispatch problem is bigger than Iredell Co. admits

    By: Dan Tordjman


    IREDELL COUNTY, N.C. - Firefighters tell Eyewitness News a problem we found in a 9 Investigates report is bigger than Iredell County admits.

    Channel 9 showed you on Monday that the county said human error led to two cases of paramedics having trouble finding people who called 911.

    In one case, first responders were dispatched to an address nearly 15 miles from the house where the emergency was happening.

    There have been other cases as well.

    First responders told Eyewitness News there's an issue with the technology the 911 center uses. They showed Eyewitness News reporter Dan Tordjman how they're asking the county to change it.

    “Please come get me. Please, right now,” a victim said in a 911 call. 

    The caller, in desperate need of help, was a 16-year-old, thrown from her car in a crash.

    Where exactly?  Iredell County dispatchers weren't sure.

    “I'm trying to find it on the map here, I'm sorry. We've got 500 other wrecks going on right now,” an Iredell dispatcher said.

    “I'm scared,” the victim said.

    The calls were disconnected several times. When the victim called back, another dispatcher tried to figure out where she was.

    “Do you think you was on, uh, maybe, uh, Triplett Road, maybe?” the dispatcher said.

    “Yeah,” the victim said.

    “We have units headed toward Triplett Road but do you know where at on Triplett?” the dispatcher said.

    “No, to be honest I don't,” the victim said. “I blacked out. I blacked out for 30 minutes now. I just woke up and I'm scared and I'm bleeding and I can't walk.”

    Rescuers searched for the girl up and down Triplett Road as neighbors watched.

    “They went down this road and then they had turned around and came back like they didn't know where they were going,” witness Heather Rowllings said.

    As it turned out, the girl in the wreck was actually several miles away.

    “Do you travel Ostwalt Amity Road?” the dispatcher said.

    “I travel Shinnville,” the victim said.

    “Shinnville? So you come down Shinnville?” the dispatcher said.

    “Yeah,” the victim said.

    About 15 minutes after the initial call, which connected to Rowan County’s dispatch center before being transferred to Iredell, dispatchers stated they believed they had finally pinpointed where the victim was.

    “We think we got a better coordinate fix. I think you are right. You're there on Shinnville. Right there before the bridge,” the dispatcher said.

    “Yes,” the victim said.

    “OK,” the dispatcher said.

    The county's emergency communications director, David Martin, didn't want to go on camera.

    He did say that the call was handled appropriately and he was happy with the fact that the victim was found within 20 minutes of making the call. However, first responders Eyewitness News spoke to said it should've never taken that long.

    “When people's lives are at stake, when people are in traffic accidents -- we need to get there,” said Shepherds Fire Capt. Chris Thompson.

    Thompson told us several factors made it hard to find the victim.

    “The call was dispatched to the wrong location,” Thompson said. “While we had units en route, they switched the location on us.”

    Thompson and other first responders we spoke to said it’s unacceptable to be dispatched to incorrect locations when the county 911 center should have the technology to avoid such errors.

    The Iredell County Fireman's Association sent a letter to emergency communications and county leaders saying, "The mapping system is not tracking cell phones as effectively as in the past."

    And in the case of the crash victim, the “... ability to track her cell phone was vital in this incident but lacking in the present system."

    Some first responders, including one who made a formal complaint to Emergency Communications and to other Iredell County leaders, blame recent upgrades at the 911 center, claiming they've downgraded mapping and tracking where cell phone calls originate.

    But Martin denies all of it, telling Eyewitness News the new mapping software is accurate and the ability to track cell phone calls has not changed. Martin added that phone tracking could only be as accurate as the information received from cell providers.

    In this case, the girl survived.

    But rescuers worry the next victim might not be as lucky.

    “We've got to do something to better the service we provide to these people,” said Thompson.

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