Fla. dispatcher hangs up on mom with baby locked in hot car
He faces disciplinary action after saying the child had to be in distress and hanging up; a good Samaritan smashed the window
By Elizabeth Behrman
TAMPA, Fla. — A New Tampa mom is still surprised about - and Tampa police are investigating - the response she got after calling 911 for help when her 10-month-old son locked himself in her car.
Shana Dees had stopped at a CVS store on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard on Saturday afternoon to pick up some bleach and bottled water. She loaded her purchases into the car and put her son, Jack, into his car seat so she could move her shopping cart.
In the few seconds Dees stepped away from the black Acura, her son, who had been playing with the car keys, hit the lock button.
She called her husband and asked him to bring the spare car key, then called 911 because it was so hot. She didn’t think she had enough time to call AAA to come to open the door before Jack started suffering in the intense heat, Dees explained to the police dispatcher.
His response to her cries for help shocked her.
“We won’t be able to try to gain access to the car unless the child is in some kind of distress,” she said the dispatcher told her. “And by that point, they may just smash your windows.”
Then he hung up.
Dees was calm on the 911 recording, but after she found out the police weren’t going to help, panic set in, she said. Dees said she watched as Jack, who by then had crawled out of his car seat, grew lethargic in the early afternoon heat.
“What do you do when you call the cavalry, and then you’re told the cavalry is not coming today?” she said Tuesday.
It took 15 minutes to get Jack out of the car, Dees said.
An off-duty police officer who was in the store called 911 a second time and reached a different dispatcher who immediately sent help. Another good samaritan grabbed a wrench from the CVS utility closet and smashed a window just as four patrol cars and fire truck pulled into the lot, Dees said.
An investigation into the incident is underway, said Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy.
Whenever the department gets a call about a child locked in a car, the protocol is always to send a police officer and fire rescue immediately to the scene, McElroy said. While what the dispatcher told Dees was true — that the police would have had to smash her car window — he did not even ask for her location or condition of the baby.
“That’s not how we do business,” she said.
The dispatcher faces disciplinary action, which could range from a written reprimand to a suspension, McElroy said.
Dees said she was relieved to know the dispatcher was wrong about the department’s policy and that something will be done about his response. She said it felt like the dispatcher was treating her like she had asked for free roadside car service rather than help for her baby.
“I spent the whole weekend crying about it,” Dees said.
The man who broke the car window was a nurse, Dees said. He crawled through shattered glass to get to Jack and immediately poured some cool water over the baby’s head and into his baby bottle.
Dees and her husband, who arrived at the CVS shortly after the police, shook the man’s hand and “thanked him profusely,” she said, but didn’t get his name. They would love to express their gratitude, she said.
“He acted when nobody else did, and we’re very grateful he did that,” Dees said.
Luckily, Jack wasn’t hurt.
“He definitely had heat exhaustion,” she said. “But cool fluids, AC and rest did the trick. He’s OK now.”
He is no longer allowed to play with the car keys, though.
©2014 the Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Fla.)