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911 nightmare: Failure to dispatch leads to lawsuit after 6 killed by washed away bridge in Indiana

When you have an emergency, the first thing most of us think to do is call 911. But what happens when the people taking your call don’t send help? Last year six people died, when flooding washed away the Sanes bridge in the small town of Laurel, Indiana. Two of the victims were Josh Mosier’s little girls. “That’s the reoccurring nightmare, is seeing that and hearing them scream. And it’s like I’m behind a wall and I can’t get to them,” Mosier said.Mosier was driving into work on that rainy morning, March 20, 2020, when he got a terrifying call.”He said ‘I don’t know how to tell you this, but I believe it’s her van upside down in the creek.'”Inside that van were Mosier’s two little girls, 4-year old Kylee and 7-year old Elysium, along with their mother, Felina Lewis and her teenage son. Mosier replays that morning over and over again in his head. “I wanted to believe that they died immediately and that wasn’t the case. They were screaming and headlights were bouncing up and down out of the trees,” Mosier said.After days of pouring rain, flood waters were so high they washed away the bridge above. When the van was finally pulled from the water, no one was inside. “I had to find them. Real simple. I had to find them,” Mosier said. Mosier hopped in and started wading through the water, searching for his babies. About a mile downstream right in his backyard, he found his youngest.”I just picked her up and squeezed her and screamed and cried and I just carried her through here, through that little pasture up to my house. I laid her down in the garage and I told her that loved her and that she didn’t have to yell anymore, that I found her and I told her I wasn’t done yet, that I had to find her sister,” he said. A short time later, he found his oldest daughter the same way. No one escaped. The girl’s mother and brother along with two other men whose car was also swept away all died that morning. Six lives gone. What Mosier didn’t realize until days later is this tragedy could have been prevented. Three calls were made to 911 that morning. One, just after 3 a.m., a second one at 4:18 a.m. and then again at 4:46 a.m. The second emergency call to come, foreshadowing for what was about to happen. “The bridge here on Sanes Creek at the bottom of Sanes Hill is completely washed out. It’s gone! Somebody better get down here and block it off before somebody goes into the river,” the caller warned dispatchers. But help never came. Within 40 minutes of that 911 call, the girl’s mother who was on her way to work and taking her kids to the babysitters came down Sanes Hill and drove right into the rushing water. “All it would have taken was a car with flashing lights to block the road and the traffic would have been averted, and we wouldn’t be sitting here today,” Mosier said.Mosier hired attorney Tim Devereux to find out why the three Franklin County dispatchers inside the call center that day didn’t send help. What they discovered was disturbing. The complaint filed against Franklin County, the Sheriff Department and Highway Department claims 911 operators were making numerous postings on their personal social media accounts at the exact time the 911 calls came in. Hours later, while rescuers were still searching for the victims the chief deputy called into dispatch also questioning how this happened. He asked the dispatcher on duty in the afternoon to see if someone called and said the bridge was out around 3 a.m. “God help whoever didn’t pass that on if they did,” the chief deputy told the dispatcher. Then, the dispatcher tells him there was a call at 4:18 a.m. saying, “advise that the bridge on Sanes Creek is completely washed away.” The chief deputy then asked what the dispatcher did with it and she told him it was turned into an information-only call.The chief deputy couldn’t believe it. “Are you f-ing kidding me?” he said. An information call means a deputy does not have to respond. Neighbors like Roni and Robin Ault who were the first to call 911 that night are angry. They feel like they tried to help and weren’t taken seriously. Roni Ault explained, “The road was getting worse. It was within minutes we were stuck down there and couldn’t get back and we knew within an hour traffic was going to start getting heavy and people have to get work.” For two hours the Ault’s watched and worried. “I’m worried about somebody getting hurt! And that’s the reason we called to tell them,” Robin Ault explained.Two hours after their first call, Roni Ault called again. This time telling dispatchers a van, filled with kids is in the water. The sounds still haunt him.”We see headlights disappear. When they floated back up, they were really murky looking. You heard screams and hollers. It sounds like children, and then everything just went silent,” he said. In response to the lawsuit, the county denies it was negligent and claims as a government agency, they are immune from liability. WLWT news anchor Sheree Paolello who has been investigating this case, called the Franklin County Sheriff and the attorney representing the county but has yet to receive a response. The bridge was quickly repaired but Mosier believes until real changes are made within the Franklin County dispatch center and call centers all across the state of Indiana, it’s only a matter of time before something like this happens again. “It has to change. There has to be a different system, a different procedure when those calls come in so that there’s not another family sitting here talking to you the way I am. That it’s handled differently. Maybe a life will be saved,” he said.Mosier said the only way he’s gotten through the last year is because he has two more kids to take care of. That’s the only thing keeping him going. As for those dispatchers who were working inside the Franklin County dispatch center that morning, the 911 supervisor was fired by the Sheriff’s Department about a week after the incident but the two other dispatchers who took those 911 calls were not.

LAUREL, Ind. — When you have an emergency, the first thing most of us think to do is call 911. But what happens when the people taking your call don’t send help? Last year six people died, when flooding washed away the Sanes bridge in the small town of Laurel, Indiana. Two of the victims were Josh Mosier’s little girls.

Retired radio system to be given to public works (ND)

BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - As  part of a statewide radio upgrade for emergency first responders, the Central Dakota Communication radio equipment will get a second life with a new department. As portable radios are decommissioned throughout the year, they will be turned...

Durham 911 calls being routed through Raleigh (NC)

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Staffing shortage results in temp schedule for Lincoln County Communications (ME)

With three vacancies, Lincoln County Communications found itself between a rock and hard a place in maintaining a fully staffed work schedule. To alleviate the staff shortage, Teamsters Local 340 and Lincoln County Communications Association reached an agreement with Lincoln County to temporarily modify their work schedules. The agreement calls for a modified schedule until July 2. According to the memorandum of understanding between the county and unions, communications officers will work three 12-hour shifts and one six-hour shift per week. Communications supervisors will work rotating 12-hour shifts of two days on, two days off and three days on. The third communications department vacancy occurred on May 5 with Pamela Reed’s retirement. Reed worked 21 years in the dispatcher’s job. With the MOU, County Administrator Carrie Kipfer praised the communications staff and unions for their flexibility in dealing with this labor crisis. “They agreed to temporarily relax the contract language to which I applaud them. They found a temporary solution which may be extended if it works out for the staff,” she said.  
During commissioners’ May 4 meeting, Kipfer informed commissioners about another development in the communications department. Kipfer and new Communications Director Tara Doe are considering contracting with Priority Dispatch to monitor quality control for emergency medical and fire response calls. The state used Priority Dispatch recently as its audit for monitoring local dispatch communications centers’ adherence to emergency protocols. This prompted county officials to wonder if a third party monitor would increase their department’s efficiency by freeing supervisors from their quality control call monitoring responsibilities.
“If we outsourced this to a company specializing in quality control then how much would it cost compared to the salary and benefits paid to a supervisor monitoring call quality,” Kipfer said. County officials researched the subject and discovered Priority Dispatch would cost around $35,000 per year or the equivalent of a part-time employee. The county would receive a 20% discount by committing to a three-year contract. County officials believe a third party call monitor would free up supervisors to spend more time receiving emergency calls and doing other administrative duties. Commissioners took no action on the proposal as Kipfer requested time to seek more information prior to submitting a proposal. 
Kipfer reported Lincoln County’s share of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan will be received sometime during the next two weeks. Lincoln County’s share is $6,776,899 and towns will divide another $3,452,841. County officials are still waiting for the U.S. Treasury to provide them with guidelines for spending the money. Kipfer told commissioners she wants to work with local and regional groups in devising a plan for the stimulus funds. She is a member of Maine County Commissioners’ Association and Maine Municipal Association. Kipfer reported both groups support working together toward leveraging the funds to expand the local impact. “We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. It’s important to identify our needs, first, and make a good decision,” she said.
The meeting ended with two executive sessions. In the first session, commissioners met with an attorney to discuss a recent personnel issue. Commissioners reconvened and voted to retain an independent investigator for the issue. In the second session, commissioners took no action in another, unrelated personnel matter. Commissioners meet next at 9 a.m. Tuesday, May 17 at the Lincoln County Regional Planning Office in Wiscasset.

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UNDER THE HEADSET: A Day in the Life

This is the first installment in a series of fictional dramatizations about the trials and tribulations of a public safety telecommunicator. The story is fictional, but the circumstances are real for many employed in public safety communications.

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