'Somebody's just not answering': Stunning admissions reveal problems at 911 center

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - A FOX19 NOW investigation has uncovered lengthy delays at Cincinnati's 911 Call Center, including calls stuck on hold for several minutes or longer with no pick-up.

Delays happen when all operators are tied-up, and the calls get placed in a "queue" or in-line. In one case, for nearly 2 1/2 minutes, an exchange between professionals at the county and city 911 centers can be heard while a woman with an emergency waits on hold.

The sergeant on duty at the city's 911 center can be heard saying she has no way to enter the emergency information and does not offer to write anything down and hand it to call takers sitting a few feet away.

This call, which starts out calm, came from Elmwood Place in July 2017:

City: "Cincinnati Police and Fire..."

Caller: "There's a strange man, he looks like a heroin addict, he was laying on the ground across my driveway."

No help showed up, so the caller and a neighbor kept calling. They were put on hold for several minutes.

City: "Cincinnati 911, what's the address of your emergency?"

Caller: "Ma'am, I've had actually called you in excess of 32 times. We've been on the phone the last 10 to 15 minutes, trying to get somebody to come over here and help us."

City: "We did already have that call."

Caller: "Well, you gonna have to hurry up, because if our neighbors come out here, we gonna take care of this! OK?"

City: "So, he overdosed?"

Caller: "You know, we've been on this phone too long! For somebody to not have come over here!"

Frustrated, the woman called Hamilton County 911, to see if their dispatcher or supervisor could get through. Here's how that call went down, between a County Supervisor and Cincinnati's 911 Supervisor, Sgt. Cassandra Lewis, on her on-shift cellphone.

City: "Communications, Lewis."

County: "Hey, it's Ashley at the County ... we have a squad run that's been pending for a very long time. It's for an overdose."

City: "I don't know how that is. We don't have any calls holding."

County: "Well, she was in-queue with you for like, she said over six minutes, and then she called us, and we've been in the queue now."

City: "Yeah, I don't know that I know how to put in fire runs. We're not dispatchers over here, we're just sergeants. Um, yeah, I don't know how to do that. I'm going to have to transfer you back."

County: "OK."

City: "We don't, we don't have any calls holding."

County: "Well, somebody's just not answering, or there's an issue maybe ... she's like sitting on hold, trying to get through to you right now."

City: "OK, well do you want to put the call in or do you want to hang up and let her..."

County:  "I can't. She's stuck in your queue for over 7 minutes. She's been waiting to get through to you ... our protocol is to call you. If you want to put me to fire dispatch..."

City: "Do we know how to? I don't know how to put in medical runs, because, it's a -- ya -- I wouldn't know what to say. And now we got them holding. Yeah ... What, what kind of um, what kind of um -- run is it? Yeah, see, I can't do that, because I'm not a...."

County: "Is there someone there I can talk to, like a call taker? Or that, since you said they're on the phone..."

City: "They're out. What I'm saying is, they're all on a call now. At this point, I see all the lights lit up."

County: "So what would you like me to do?"

City: "So, um, she, if she hangs up, she's gonna lose her spot. Somebody could be on the line."

County: "She's still on the line, no, she's still on the line trying to get through ... can you put me to fire dispatch? Can you transfer me back there?"

City: "Hang on one second."

It takes her 23 seconds to send the call across the room.

Fire: "Fire dispatch, may I help you?"

County: "Hey, it's Ashley with Hamilton County! I was just speaking with your supervisor, um, can you put in a squad run for me? We've got an overdose. And they have been pending in your queue for over 10 minutes. We can't get through and she said she can't enter a detail."

Police union rep: Politics ruling over 'reasonableness' in Plush investigation

Fire dispatch had a squad sent in about 60 seconds. FOX19 played the call for Amy Murray, vice chair of the City's Law & Safety Committee.

"If you get off one call and you can see that another call's been waiting, two minutes, five minutes, 10 minutes, that's too long, it's unacceptable," said Murray. "People need to have their calls answered."

Murray said the protocol is fire to be called first for heroin runs, but sergeants on duty are not trained to take 911 calls.

"Their role is not being a dispatcher or call taker," said Murray, adding the sergeants are there to guide dispatchers in situations that require police expertise. "I think anyone there should be prepared to write on a piece of paper the information that they need to know and go over to fire dispatch and wait until they're off of that call and say, here, I have this one."

Sgt. Dan Hils, who represents the Cincinnati police union, echoes Murray's sentiment, that it would be common sense to take a note and pass it on.

FOX19 reached out to the 911 Center's temporary manager Jayson Dunn, but did not hear back from him.

FOX19 also reached out to Acting City Manager Patrick Duhaney for comment, as the 911 center is his responsibility. He has not heard the call, but released this statement Wednesday night:

"The situation outlined in the call from last year is clearly unacceptable. It's been well documented that the City of Cincinnati has been actively working with its various partners and vendors to address ongoing issues with our 911 system and overall Emergency Communications Center (ECC) operations.

The woman who made the 30-plus 911 calls declined to be interviewed for this story.

Amy Murray says two minutes or less is the goal right now to be held in-queue, and that City Council recently put more money toward hiring four more call takers, which she believes will help with call delays.

Copyright 2018 WXIX. All rights reserved.