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Snafus misdirect emergency crews

Staff writers

Anonymous but growing concerns among emergency responders weren’t calmed this past week by a series of mix-ups involving sheriff’s dispatchers.

Back-to-back calls Friday would have sent crews more than 10 miles away from where they were needed had responders not quickly questioned dispatchers’ instructions.

A fire, reported to be three miles west of Marion, was in fact at eight miles northeast of Marion.

Less than an hour after crews returned from that call, an accident at 330th Rd. and US-77 was reported as being both there and at 230th and Sunflower Rds., 13 miles away.

Although two dispatchers are on duty at any given time, all of the calls were made by the same dispatcher.

Lost Springs accident

At 9:31 p.m., a sheriff’s deputy was told to go to “a two-vehicle accident at 77 and 230th, 330th,” according to radio transmissions recorded by the newspaper.

Two minutes later, the same dispatcher told Marion firefighters, rescue squad, and ambulance to go to a two-car accident with no injuries at 230th and Sunflower Rds.

Overhearing the second call, the deputy questioned it and was told by the second dispatcher on duty that US-77 and 330th was correct.

However, firefighters, rescuers, and EMTs, operating on different frequencies, still were headed to 230th and Sunflower.

Meanwhile, the first dispatcher also paged Tampa ambulance, again making reference to be 230th and 330th as the crossroads with US-77.

A seemingly irritated EMT aboard Marion ambulance called dispatchers, saying: “You’re advising there’s a 10-48 [injury accident], two vehicles, at 330th and 77?”

The first dispatcher replied: “That is 10-4.”

The EMT continued: “And you’re wanting Marion to respond, or you’re having Dickinson County to co-respond?”

The location is 9 miles from Herington, 13 miles from Tampa, and 17 miles from Marion.

The first dispatcher responded: “You know, [inaudible] I had Tampa and you.”

The Marion EMT then asked: “10-4, how many patients do we have at 330th and 77?”

The first dispatcher responded: “10-4, there is [sic] no injuries at this time.”

The Marion EMT then repeated: “How many patients do we have?”

The dispatcher’s reply was halting and unintelligible.

The Marion EMT instructed the dispatcher to page a Dickinson County ambulance, but Marion firefighters still had not been notified of the correct address.

At 9:37 p.m., they finally were told by the first dispatcher to go to US-77 and 330th, but some still thought they were headed to 230th.

“We’re not sure about that,” one said. “But it’s on 77. You’ll go past 230th to 330th.”

Chief dispatcher Linda Klenda would not comment on the confusion. However, her boss, sheriff Robb Craft, said the problem was that two calls came in at almost the same time.

One was referred from Dickinson County. The other, a 911 call not about a traffic accident, was at 230th and Sunflower.

“The second time it was repeated, the dispatcher in error glanced at the CAD,” a computer screen listing the address for the other call, which didn’t involve an accident. “That was corrected before they got to that location.”

Whatever became of the call to 230th and Sunflower is not clear. Recordings do not indicate that any officers or other emergency responders ultimately were sent to that location.

“The 911 call was coming in at 230th,” Craft said. “That brought up that CAD screen, and when the dispatcher sent out the fire, rescue, and ambulance, that was what she was looking at.”

Craft did not offer an explanation why the dispatcher did not recall the location she had correctly provided moments earlier in dispatching a deputy.

“The screen for the second call was up,” he said. “That’s what she was looking at.”

Although initially billed as a non-injury accident, two ambulances were used. Tampa ambulance transported one person to St. Luke Hospital in Marion and a Dickinson County ambulance transported a more seriously injured person to a Junction City hospital. A third person declined to be transported.

Youngtown fire

Craft had no information about the mix-up on the immediately previous call, which turned out to be a baler on fire near Youngtown.

For that call, Marion firefighters initially were sent to what the first dispatcher reported as an unauthorized controlled burn “three miles out of town on US-56.”

Two minutes later, when a firefighter asked whether it was east or west of Marion, the dispatcher replied that it was west.

A second firefighter suggested, however, that it was east, near the US-56/77/K-150 roundabout.

Two minutes after that, the second dispatcher gave the correct location.

Similar confusion was noted in other transmissions Friday night.

Lehigh standoff

Friday night’s confusion wasn’t the only confusion over dispatches.

During an armed standoff that ended with the fatal shooting of a reportedly suicidal and intoxicated Lehigh resident June 20, a call came in about a resident of Oakwood Apartments in Hillsboro who was thought to have suffered a stroke

With Hillsboro ambulance still in Lehigh, Marion ambulance was sent on the call. Off-duty Hillsboro EMTs also responded in their own vehicles.

The Marion ambulance twice had to ask dispatchers to provide a specific street address. No address was provided until four minutes later, when Hillsboro ambulance also asked for it after volunteering to leave Lehigh and respond.

Marion ambulance was turned around and sent back to Marion. However, a minute later, Hillsboro ambulance reported that officers had asked it to remain in Lehigh. Marion ambulance was turned around again and headed back to Hillsboro.

It arrived only 11 minutes after the initial call, but immediately had to ask for help from law enforcement officers with an aggressive dog that was preventing access to the patient. Dispatchers responded that no officers were available.

A few minutes passed before EMTs radioed that they were able to evaluate the patient, whose condition was listed as possibly life-threatening. The ambulance took the patient to Hillsboro Community Hospital then continued on to Wesley Medical Center, Wichita.

Fall northwest of Durham

A series of communications problems also delayed arrival of a helicopter ambulance summoned to transport a 38-year-old woman who fell 30 feet June 21 near 330th and Bison Rds., suffering head trauma and chest pains and having no feeling in the lower half of her body.

Tampa EMTs in their own vehicles appeared to arrive first on the scene and immediately asking for a helicopter ambulance. It arrived 37 minutes later but overshot the location and was “quite a ways east and a bit south of us,” as one EMT on the ground put it.

Although both helicopter and ground transmissions were recorded on the newspaper’s monitoring equipment, the two groups could not communicate directly with each other and had to relay messages between their dispatchers, who were in touch via telephone.

At one point, the telephone connection accidentally was disconnected.

The helicopter eventually landed nine minutes later and took the patient to Wesley Medical Center, Wichita, more than an hour after the initial call.

Storm warnings

During the county’s brief scare with storms Monday night, dispatchers also had trouble keeping weather information straight.

At 8 p.m., after the National Weather Service had issued a warning for southeast Marion County, a dispatcher announced that the warning was for the northeast rather than southeast part of the county, even though she seemed to realize her error when she haltingly added “locations impacted include Peabody [long pause] Burns.”

Sheriff’s reaction

Asked Monday for his overall feelings about the dispatch department in light of current and past problems, Craft said he would “hold off comment on that right now.”

He did verify that the dispatch department was fully staffed, with eight full-timers working 12-hour shifts, two or three days in a row.

Others involved with emergency responses have privately expressed concern but declined to have their names attached to their comments.

In a lengthy anonymous letter, one person obviously close to the situation questioned dispatchers’ training and suitability and said police chiefs had raised the issue with Craft.

The note went on to allege that some emergency responders had been told not to question dispatchers under threat that assistance might not be dispatched to them when it was needed in the field.

None of these allegations could be verified, nor were any official responses to them solicited.

Last modified June 29, 2017

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