Ariz. dispatcher put on hold by 911 center during cardiac arrest call
The Marana police dispatcher was attempting to transfer the call to Tucson 911 to dispatch the fire department
Carol Ann Alaimo
The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson
TUSCON, Ariz. — A police department trying to summon help for a woman in cardiac arrest called twice and spent more than four minutes on hold with Tucson's 911 center before someone answered the call, a report from the center's interim 911 director said.
The lapse in service during the medical call from Marana occurred two weeks before the director of Tucson's 911 suddenly quit her $175,000 position after 14 months on the job, public records show.
Besides serving Tucson, the city's 911 center dispatches fire and medical calls on a contract basis for Northwest Fire Department, which services such calls in Marana.
The situation illustrates the potential peril of "critically low staffing levels" at the Tucson center, where an outside consultant found a multitude of problems including poor morale, infighting, cramped quarters, high turnover and lower wages than similar jobs pay elsewhere.
Those problems are the main reason 22 staffers were on duty instead of 32 on the day a Marana 911 dispatcher couldn't get through, a recent report to Tucson's city manager said.
The lapse in service occurred Dec. 28. On Jan. 15, Jamie O'Leary, the then-director of Tucson 911, resigned, citing "compelling personal family needs."
The first public account of the 911 lapse is contained in a Feb. 1 report to Tucson's city manager from Tucson Police Department Deputy Chief Chad Kasmar, who has temporarily replaced O'Leary as head of the city's Public Safety Communications Department, which operates 911.
Marana has its own 911 dispatch system for police calls but normally transfers fire and medical calls to Tucson's center for dispatch to Northwest Fire.
On the day of the incident, Marana 911 received a cardiac arrest call at about 3:45 p.m. — about the same time Tucson's short-staffed 911 center was seeing a steep surge in calls, the report said.
The Tucson center received 140 calls in 30 minutes, about 32% higher than normal for the period, the report said.
The Marana dispatcher trying to transfer the call spent three minutes on hold, hung up, called again and waited another minute and 15 seconds before someone in Tucson picked up the call, Kasmar said in an interview.
The Marana Police Department, which has officers trained in CPR who carry portable defibrillators, sent them to aid the cardiac arrest patient until Northwest Fire paramedics arrived.
"It is my understanding that the person in cardiac arrest ultimately did not make it," Kasmar said.
The situation has not shaken Northwest Fire Department's faith in the Tucson 911 system, which has been dispatching calls for Northwest for about 20 years, said Brian Keeley, the department's division chief of administrative services.
"Unfortunately, nothing is perfect. There are failures that occur in the system but we don't see them on a regular or repetitive basis," Keeley said in an interview.
"We have confidence that (Kasmar) is looking into this and any other issues," he said.
Tucson's City Council has created a task force to monitor 911 problems and oversee improvements. Kasmar's report on the state of the department is due to be discussed Feb. 9 at the next council meeting.
(c)2021 The Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, Ariz.)