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911 must be better than a telemarketing call center – A STATter911 op-ed

Florida tragedy highlights what ails 911 nationwide

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The Ledger newspaper in Lakeland, Florida has been closely following the controversies surrounding the Polk County fire where Lorretta Pickard died. They’ve been kind enough to allow me to share my views on the problems apparent in the handling of Pickard’s 911 call and how they relate to similar 911 issues nationwide. From conversations the past two weeks, I know many agree with my thoughts, but there are others who strongly disagree. Please take a moment to read the entire guest column and let me know your views.

The outrage over 76-year-old Lorretta Pickard’s death boils down to this: Mrs. Pickard was inside her Polk County home talking with 911 for five minutes after firefighters arrived, yet firefighters — dressed in protective clothing, breathing apparatus and armed with 750 gallons of water — couldn’t enter the home.

Many wonder how that can be. Unfortunately, Polk County’s fire chief and deputy county manager had no good answers at last week’s press conference, almost 12 weeks after the fire.

What’s mostly overlooked in the focus on the first firefighters is the work of the real first-responders at 911.

They talked with Pickard for 15 minutes before firefighters arrived. A critical listen to that chilling recording shows missed opportunities to possibly guide Pickard out of her burning home.

The mistakes aren’t necessarily the fault of the call-taker. The unidentified Sheriff’s Office 911 worker talking with Pickard appears to be a victim, too. A victim of poor training and low expectations plaguing many 911 centers.

Read entire guest column in The Ledger

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