CLEVELAND - The FOX 8 I TEAM has found a new spotlight on a problem we’ve revealed time and again with 9-1-1 calls getting put on hold. This time, the caller was Councilman Zack Reed, also a candidate for mayor, and he was calling for help after coming upon two men shot and wounded in the street.
The I TEAM has found 9-1-1 calls frequently put on hold especially with EMS due to short-staffing in dispatch.
Tuesday night, Councilman Reed says he passed by two men fighting for their lives after getting shot in the street near East 93rd and Kinsman. Reed said, "I called 9-1-1, and I go on a recording." He added, "And they're shot, and they're bleeding right before my very eyes. You make this phone call, and then you go to a recording. You call back, and then you hear the conversation, we're understaffed."
The I TEAM has shown you 9-1-1 callers waiting on hold even ten minutes. Tuesday, crowds filled downtown for fireworks and an Indians game. Then gunfire erupted in the neighborhoods. But again, Cleveland dispatch struggled to handle the calls coming in to 9-1-1.
The I TEAM pressed city hall to find out how many people are actually handling your emergency calls. EMS has 33 dispatcher positions. But only 20 people are taking calls. Others are in training. The police department has 98 dispatcher positions. 85 of them are filled.
We caught up with Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson after an event. He said, "The point is we take it serious." The mayor says the city is hiring and training more dispatchers. And, the city is hiring more paramedics and buying more ambulances to increase the number of units on the streets. All of that thanks to a tax increase. Meantime, the number of 9-1-1 calls has been rising very year.
So we asked why more wasn’t done to address this earlier? The mayor responded, “Because we didn't have the money.”
The Cleveland Police Union says hiring and training takes months. And now dispatchers often get forced to work overtime with no choice. Union President Steve Loomis said, "Imagine that you're getting ready to go home, 15 minutes before you go home, some supervisor comes up and says, ‘I need you to stay another 8 hours.’'
Reed worries what might happen before the problem is fixed.
While the city is working on hiring more dispatchers, it’s not entirely clear how long it will take to get up to full staff levels. The extra ambulances should hit the streets in October and November.