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Durham 911 dispatcher fired

Posted August 28, 2009

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— A Durham emergency dispatcher has been fired for not following procedure during a 911 call earlier this month that delayed response to a fatal fire.

Marvin Jacobs, 74, died in the Aug. 17 fire at 110 Shantercliff Place.

In a 911 recording of the call, the dispatcher, Theresa Hopkins, repeatedly asks an unidentified female caller for the address of the fire.

Durham 911 dispatcher fired Durham 911 dispatcher fired

James Soukup, director of the Durham Emergency Communications, said that an investigation into what happened showed that Hopkins failed to follow procedure by not keeping the caller on the phone and not asking follow-up questions when she was unsure of the address.

That could have included inquiring about nearby intersections or a phone number that could have been traced.

Soukop also said that all the emergency equipment at the 911 center was working properly when the call came in but that an issue with the caller's telephone provider, Vonage, caused the address not to display on the 911 system.

That and Hopkins' failure to get the information caused a delay of 4 minutes and 32 seconds, Soukup said.

Hopkins was terminated on Thursday.

Charlie Sahner, a Vonage spokesman, said the company is investigating the details surrounding Jacobs' death "but has nothing substantive yet to report."

Investigators said they believe the fire started inside a vehicle Jacobs had been working on that evening. Authorities have said there was no foul play involved.

Durham authorities said Jacobs was the only person in the house at the time of the fire.

Although his cause of death hasn't been determined, they said it appeared to be consistent with someone who was overtaken by smoke.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • Deep Thought Aug 28, 2009

    I spent many years in that center, there are numerous strange issues.

    The reliance on the computer system, if the info doesn't fit the communicator can go into a 'tizzy' which results in training flying out the window, more problems then panic sets in.

    Lack of knowledge of geography of the area, she probably never heard or read "Shantercliff", why wasn't it in the computer with an alternate spellling if Chantercliff that would refer to the correct spelling? Pre-computer communicators were required to learn the geography of the area.

    Planners are also responsible - Stardust Dr becomes Stardust Ct, why? Chapel Hill Road, Blvd, Street, why. Snow Hill Rd becomes Mason Rd becomes St Mary's Rd. Where are Hale, Dale or Vale? Umstead rd croses Cole Mill Rd and becomes Old Cole Mill Rd. Huh?? The attitude in the DECC that no one gets fired unless they kill someone. Duh. There are good things there but also not good.

    Citizens beware, this is your line to help.

  • wakemom Aug 28, 2009

    didnt hear attitude from the operator. did hear her have the street spelling repeated. and she also said it wasnt coming up. that isnt her fault.

    also most operators dont ask for your name. they said 911 what is your emergency. some folks digging to much. how many recordings have you heard where they ask for your name and address first.

  • ginaosbo Aug 28, 2009

    I heard a bit of a "tude" from the operator. How many times does a street name need to be S P E L L E D, in English, in order that someone gets it. Pure incompetence in my view! If it was my family, I'd be very upset!

  • meh2 Aug 28, 2009

    I have found a great, shall we say, unevenness in the quality of 911 operators in Durham. Saying any more than that will be censored by GoLo.

    I know that neighborhood very well. It is difficult to navigate even when you know where you are going in broad daylight.

  • makeitright Aug 28, 2009

    sorry folks the operator is 100% at fault.. didn't ask her name, phone number, nothing... Fired she should be... the lady spelled it several times and then she read it back completely wrong... I've dispatched and when someone says their is a house on fire, YOU DO LISTEN and WRITE what they say, not what you think they said.. and if you not sure, you MAKE SURE.....

  • ThisIsMyName Aug 28, 2009

    EMS, you are correct about 911 dispatchers having a highly stressful job. On top of that, many operate 12 hour shifts on rotating schedules night shift/day shift. And, at the bigger centers they look at 7 to 8 monitors.

  • Shaking My Head In Amusement Aug 28, 2009

    And whoever brought up the Cricket/Vonage/Pre-paid phone thing. You're correct, Cricket does not give a name/address/phone number to the e911 system. It will say something like 941.3 ft E. of intersection Holloway St & Guthrie Ave. If you call from a landline then it will give the name of the person on the bill, the address and a callback phone number. When you call from your regular sprint/nextel/altell/verizon phone it will give a name and call back #. It's important to know if you're traveling E/W or N/S on the highway & what the nearest milemarker or exit is. If you're really familiar with the area it's good to say something like I40 Westbound beween the Hwy 55 and Fayetteville Rd exits. It will let the crews who are on the way know where to get on the highway at since there are cement barriers and you have to go wayyyy down to turn around and then fight the traffic backup to get to the scene. The more info you can give a dispatcher the better it helps us who are being sent.

  • Shaking My Head In Amusement Aug 28, 2009

    For someone to say that 911 Dispatchers don't have a highly stressful job, I beg you to please go sit in their chair and do their job for a week and at the end of the week see if you're willing to keep going. To know that on the other end of the phone is someone who needs help and you're limited in your ability to help them truly affects some people. Think if you're the one who gets the call from a frantic mom who's child is choking. You get the call from someone who's hiding in their house hoping to not be found by the intruders who just barged in. You're on the phone with someone who's husband just coallapsed in the floor.... there are MANY scenarios and the affect each person differently.
    911 Dispatchers are HIGHLY trained individuals. They operate a mini console with 3-4 computer screens, each one doing a different function. You're getting as much info as possible to ping to the person who dispatches the units. You HAVE to have great listening skills and many other things.

  • MuddyBrute Aug 28, 2009

    Live_the_truth, you are correct, the address was repeated several times including SPELLED out. I also got the same fealing that the dispatcher was preoccupied and not giving the caller her full attention. I have previously worked as a 911 dispatcher and do understand that sometimes it is very hard to understand the callers, BUT, in this case, even with all of the background noise with the caller, I was able to clearly understand the street name especially when the street name was SPELLED out to the dispatcher.

  • Adelinthe Aug 28, 2009

    "Would the 4 minutes and 32 seconds have made a difference? We'll never really know."

    Yes we will.

    Most fires become explosive after 3 minutes which eats up any oxygen that may have been in the area to say nothing of increasing the risk of being burned alive.

    God bless.