Listen: Desperate 911 caller forced to hold for help

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CLEVELAND -- The FOX 8 I-TEAM has found a desperate woman called Cleveland 911 for an ambulance, but she had to wait to talk to EMS. Rescuers later found the patient dead although it’s unclear if the delay was a factor in any way in the death.

So, we’re investigating what happened with that call and why we’ve seen similar Cleveland dispatch delays now for years.

The latest case happened late last month in the wee hours of the morning. A woman called 911 from the Mill Creek neighborhood about a man having trouble breathing and dying.

But the initial call taker couldn’t transfer the call. Only one EMS call taker was on duty, and that person was already handling another emergency. The city said two supervisors were also on duty there, but they, too, were tied up.

The woman waiting for help had to listen to a recording six times before talking to someone from EMS.

The 911 call center for Cleveland is a large room. Normally, the person answering the initial call simply transfers it across the room, to, say, EMS. In this case, that call taker ultimately walked over to EMS to get help going.

A recording shows an ambulance finally got to the scene of the emergency about ten minutes after the 911 call.

Assistant Safety Director Ed Eckart told the I-TEAM, normally there would be up to four EMS call takers instead of one.

He said, "It was kind of a perfect storm of people being off on approved medical leave and vacations and things, and not having people available to work anymore overtime."

We pointed out the city promised to hire more dispatchers and fill gaps after voters approved a tax increase in 2016.

Eckart responded, "We have hired more dispatchers."

Eckart said many of the dispatchers hired by the city end up leaving the job after discovering it’s not the kind of job they thought it would be. The staff right now is down nearly 20%.

However, the city said more dispatchers will get hired early next year.  And soon, paramedics will also start to help handling phones.

Though Ed Eckart said, "We're not talking paramedics off of ambulances. This would be on their off time in an overtime capacity.”

In short, the city is still working on finding a way to prevent the 911 delays we’ve seen before and we just saw again.

We reached out to the family involved in the latest delay case and have not heard back.

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