Ill. dispatcher suspended for mishandling sinking car call
An 89-year-old man drowned while a worker who took the call did not advise him to try to get out of the sinking SUV, and fumbled the dispatch
ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. — A dispatcher who mishandled a 911 call from an elderly man as his car sank in a pond was on vacation weeks earlier when her boss requested that all dispatchers review water rescue protocols, officials said.
Henry Laseke, 89, drowned after driving his Cadillac into the pond next to his Arlington Heights home July 25. A recording of his 911 call showed the Northwest Central Dispatch worker who took the call did not advise him to try to get out of the sinking SUV, an apparent violation of the agency's protocol.
The dispatcher, Dawn Brezwyn, was given a three-day suspension after an internal inquiry and received additional training, according to agency records and officials.
"Your actions exhibit a breakdown in performance along with not adhering to the (National Academies of Emergency Dispatch's) Code of Ethics and Conduct," Brezwyn's disciplinary notice, dated Aug. 27, reads in part.
The inquiry found that Brezwyn repeatedly entered the wrong codes into the dispatch system — later telling investigators that she did not know the proper code, records show. She fumbled with a computer program and didn't use resources that would have guided her in the call, according to the notice.
Brezwyn, who could not be reached for comment, also had not completed a review of water rescue protocols that had been requested of all dispatchers in late June.
Northwest Central's executive director, Cindy Barbera-Brelle, acknowledged that supervisors did not track which dispatchers had completed the requested review, which included a practice call for someone in a sinking vehicle.
"It's really an opportunity for the dispatcher just to refresh their memory," she said.
After questions from the Tribune, agency officials confirmed late Tuesday that they have begun tracking the completion of self-training exercises.
Agency documents suggest that Brezwyn's actions did not slow the response time, as other calls reporting the same emergency came in seconds earlier, summoning the police and fire departments.
Pat Dollard, assistant director of technical services, also noted that it was clear from the calls that a bystander had gone into the pond to try to rescue Laseke, "which makes it very probable that he would have been attentive to that person's attempts at assistance and direction instead of the call."
No one else at the dispatch agency was disciplined in the incident, officials said.
It marked the second time this year that disciplinary action was taken against Brezwyn, records show. In January, she received a written reprimand for failing to dispatch Rolling Meadows police to a medical call involving an unconscious man, though paramedics were called to the scene, records show. The man later died.
The agency has about 70 dispatchers who field, on average, more than 1,000 calls daily from 16 suburbs.
"(Brezwyn's) missteps are not representative of the training that she received and the performance of other dispatchers," Dollard said.
Arlington Heights officials said the village annually pays Northwest Central about $1 million to handle its calls, and there are no discussions about leaving the system.
"The center functions well 99 percent of the time. It is economically feasible for the municipalities and generally serves the public quite well," said Village Manager Bill Dixon.
After returning from vacation, Brezwyn logged 76 on-the-job hours before taking the call from Laseke. Though she initially told agency officials during the inquiry that she didn't recall the self-training request, records show, she also said she had been too busy during those shifts to complete the training exercises.
After Laseke's death, all Northwest Central dispatchers were required to complete a full review of protocols for less-common but high-risk incidents, including water rescues, and this month they will attend a class on the computer system that helps guide 911 calls.
Copyright 2013 Chicago Tribune
All Rights Reserved