911 dispatcher hangs up on frantic call

LAS VEGAS (CBS 8) -- A 911 dispatcher is still on the job after hanging up on a caller who found his mom dead.

An 8 News NOW investigation uncovered the shocking phone call that led to an internal investigation by Las Vegas Fire and Rescue.

That investigation revealed failures by the dispatcher and by the department. The 911 dispatcher faces corrective action but what exactly that means we may never know.

Emergency dispatch is no doubt a hectic and emotionally draining career. On the top floor of Fire Station One downtown, fire dispatchers handle thousands of calls from frantic people in some of their darkest hours.

However, one phone call has the attention of Las Vegas Fire and Rescue's top brass.

"Please, my mom. I just got off work, and I think my mom is dead," the desperate caller is heard telling the operator on this now infamous call.

"What is your address?" the operator asked.

"24... Oh my God! I can't think!" the caller said.

"I'm going to get medical on the line. Don't hang up the line. One moment," the operator responded.

At this point, the phone call for help is going according to procedure.

A Metro Police dispatcher answers the phone call first and immediately patches it through to the fire dispatch office.

"He says his mom passed away, I don't have an address yet." the Metro operator told the fire dispatcher.

"Please, she's purple!" caller said.

"Ma'am, ma'am," the fire dispatcher said.

 "I'm a guy!" the caller responded

The fire dispatcher tries to get the information but the call takes a shocking turn.

Operator: "Ok, you need to stop. You need to calm down."

Caller: "My mom's purple! (unintelligible)"

The fire department dispatcher is responsible for assessing the situation and determining what kind of help needs to be sent, but this call doesn't even get that far.

Operator: "I need a building number."

Caller: "Please!"

Operator: "Is she breathing at all?"

Caller: "No! She's purple!"

Operator: "Ok, you don't have to holler at me, I didn't do it."

Caller: "F-word you bitch!"

Operator: "Bye!"

The dispatcher disconnects the line, hanging up on the frantic man, which is a critical violation of department policy.

The original Metro dispatcher remained on the line.

"Ok, listen, We have medical and officers responding. Was she sick? What happened to her?" the Metro dispatcher asked.

"Man, I don't know. I just got off work. I just worked like 12 hours today, and my mom... I can't believe it!" the caller answered.

Las Vegas Fire and Rescue Chief Willie McDonald says an internal investigation was launched as soon as 8 News NOW brought it to his attention.

"We took what you gave us very seriously because it is not ok. It is not consistent with the level of service that we can to provide," Chief McDonald said.

One of the first orders of business was to pinpoint who the call taker was.

"Probably many people up in the center recognized the voice. Maybe others did as well so we wanted to be able to confirm that," McDonald said.

Internal interviews with other dispatchers and supervisors quickly identified the call taker. Department policy protects the information they provided, and the chief cannot release the explanation, if any, the dispatcher gave for hanging up on the man.

"I guess I couldn't say this will never happen again, but we clearly have taken the steps in this case to make sure the employee is really clear on what should have happened, and there might be some retraining that might be necessary," McDonald said.

The chief says corrective action was taken as a result of this investigation.

In general, that could range from anything from a verbal warning to suspension and even termination.

"We don't tolerate behaviors that aren't consistent with out guidelines for our protocols and our policies for our folks," McDonald said.

The department is moving forward with plans for a new quality assurance position for 911 calls. That person's mission will be to identify failures and make sure calls like this don't happen again.

The chief says the department looked into this dispatcher's history and found there were not any other incidents as serious as this.

The chief points out this call was a tiny fraction of the more than 600,000 calls handled by the fire dispatch office in just over a year. The vast majority are handled without incident.


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