911 call unanswered for nearly one minute

By Chris Strunk
Ark Valley News – March 21, 2014

The homeowner whose residence was severely damaged by fire last week called 911 immediately but was forced to wait nearly one minute before a Sedgwick County dispatcher answered her call.

And it was another three minutes before Valley Center firefighters were notified of the blaze at 329 N. Park on March 13.

Lois Black-Pianga told The News on March 13 that she was surprised that her call to 911 was not immediately answered.

“All lines were busy,” she said, shaking, minutes after she was helped out of her house.

According to Sedgwick County 911 records, Black-Pianga’s call was made at 5:43 and 57 seconds. The call was answered at 5:44 and 44 seconds, 47 seconds after it was made. It was reported as a grass fire.

Sedgwick County records show that dispatchers entered the call 32 seconds after it was received, which should have alerted local responders.

However, Valley Center firefighters received the dispatch at 5:47 p.m., about three minutes after it was first received by 911 dispatchers and nearly four minutes after the call was first placed.

Fire crews, who were just finishing a grass fire on 85th North, made up for the apparent delay, arriving on the scene of the house fire at 5:49 p.m., about five minutes after Black-Pianga first called 911.

Sedgwick County 911 Director Kim Pennington said answering a call 47 seconds after it was made is “normal when you have multiple emergencies in the entire county.”

However, she conceded, the time can “seem like an eternity” in an emergency situation.

Pennington said 15 dispatchers and five call takers were on duty during the time of the incident. All were tied up with other emergencies, including a string of grass fires along K-96 and I-135.

She said 911 received at least eight calls about the house fire in Valley Center.

Pennington said additional dispatchers are called in to work if heavier call volumes are expected, such as predicted storms and holidays.

Though the county was under a fire warning because of high winds and low humidity on March 13, no additional dispatchers were on duty.

Gwen Romine, KSFFA Webmaster

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