A man calls 911 on a cell phone in obvious respiratory distress. This is before technology has been implemented that pinpoints the location of an incoming cell phone call. The man gives the call taker his address as 915 North but the call taker hears 950 North. The call taker says “950?” and the man, thinking the call taker has said “915,” says “yes.” Shortly thereafter, the cell phone goes dead. When the call taker calls the cell phone back, the call taker is sent straight to voice mail and hears the standard message that the voice mailbox is full. Paramedics are dispatched but are dispatched to 950 North instead of 915 North. After checking the same address in neighboring cities, the paramedics are called off.
Approximately seven days later, a woman calls and asks local law enforcement to perform a “welfare check” on her brother whom she has not heard from for a few days. She gives the address as 915 North. Paramedics accompany the police and find a man in his apartment who has been deceased for quite some time. One of the paramedics on this call was also on the previous call seven days before and realizes that this must be the address they were looking for. He reports this to his battalion chief. The battalion chief, in turn, reports it to the CAO who notifies the mayor.
The Medical Examiner’s report comes back inconclusive. There is no way to determine the cause of death. There is also no way to determine the time of death with any reasonable proximity, although it is clear the man has been deceased for days. The man’s closest next of kin is his wife who is currently residing in the Dominican Republic. The man’s parents/siblings live in the United States, some of them in Utah.
Further research conducted by the Fire Department reveals that in a dispatcher training manual, call takers are instructed to repeat numbers a single digit at time (i.e. 9-1-5) in order to avoid the very confusion that was described above. In fact the 15/50 problem is used as an example of why a call taker should repeat back to the caller one digit at a time.
The City Attorney’s office also researches the issue and instructs the mayor that he does not have an affirmative legal obligation to disclose the potential evidence of negligence to the family.
Finally, by the time all of this information comes to light, funeral services have already been held for the deceased.
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