KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- We are told over and over again: If you need emergency help, dial 911
That's why a Kansas woman wants answers as to why it took an ambulance nearly 15 minutes to reach her dying mother. That happened even though the station was just a few blocks away.
FOX 4 Problem Solver Linda Wagar did some digging and has a surprising and disturbing answer that could affect any of us relying on 911 for help.
“I felt helpless because I didn't know CPR. I panicked. I didn't know what to do,” Berty Cabral said.
Cabral is talking about the day her 77-year-old mother collapsed outside her home. Cabral called 911, believing help would come quickly. She was wrong.
“The fire department is three-four blocks away from my house. Please tell them to hurry. My mom is dying. She's having a heart attack,” Cabral recalled.
Response time for someone in cardiac arrest is critical. Experts say your chances of surviving decrease 10 percent with every minute that passes. More than 10 minutes passed before Cabral finally heard a siren, and instead of driving toward her, the fire truck drove right past her street.
“I’m running after them, behind them, trying to get them. Hey, hey, I'm over here,” she said.
In total, 14 minutes passed before paramedics reached her unconscious mother. Hortensia Camerino was pronounced dead several hours later at the hospital. If help had arrived sooner, would Cabral's mother still be alive?
Cabral doesn't know, but she does know that she never expected to have to wait so long for help from a fire station that was less than two miles away.
“You are thinking when you call 911, you are going to get help right away,” she said.
But unbeknownst to Cabral, the day her mother died in the early morning hours of May 29, the 911 system was not working.
A crew laying fiber optic cable in Johnson County for AT&T had inadvertently slashed a major line that connected much of Kansas City, Kan. to the 911 emergency system
“The protection that should have been built in that system wasn't there, so basically it disconnected,” said Keith Faddis, the Director of Public Safety for the city’s 911 system.
So instead of her 911 call going directly to a 911 call taker in KCK where she lived, it was routed to KCMO police, who then transferred it to the Kansas City, Mo. Fire Department, not realizing the caller was in another state.
From there the situation goes from bad to worse. KCFD had to manually dial the KCK Fire Department to tell them of the emergency. If 911 had been working, the information could have been transmitted with the push of a button.
You can hear the struggle to find the correct address on the dispatch tape:
KCMO FD: “The address is 732 E. 82nd Terrace.”
KCK FD: “Are you sure that is KCK?”
KCMO FD: “She says… She insists she's in KCK.”
KCK FD: “Uh... We don't have east.”
KCMO FD: “Um, ok fine. Let’s try this third time. 732 N. 82nd Terrace.”
But even that address wasn't right, in fact, 732 N. 82nd Terrace doesn't exist, which the fire department only discovered after it raced to the scene.
KCMO FD: “Kansas City, Kansa Fire Department? You gave us a call for a 732 N. 82nd Terrace, our units are out there right now and that’s not a good address.”
It was then that the fire crew saw Cabral running up to them, yelling that her mother was not on 82nd Terrace, but on 82nd Street, one block away.
“We are relying on the information from the caller, to the original call taker, to the person relaying the information, to the person dispatching the information,” Faddis said.
When 911 isn’t functioning, it’s like a game of telephone. The more people get involved, the more mistakes can happen.
“That’s a lot of time wasted for a 911 call, and that’s an emergency call,” Cabral said.
Few know that better than Cabral, who planned to celebrate her mother's 78th birthday this summer. Instead, she'll be visiting her grave.