Durham fire official says 911 center is ‘weak link in response chain,’ according to internal emails

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – According to internal emails CBS 17 has obtained, one Durham fire official calls the Durham Emergency Communications Center the “weak link” responding to emergencies, and that firefighters are taking the heat when 911 calls are not answered.

In an internal email CBS 17 obtained, Andy Sannipoli, an Assistant Chief of Operation for the Durham Fire Department, said that calls to 911 are continuing to go unanswered at an epidemic rate. Residents are having to call or walk to fire stations and ask firefighters directly for help.

Sannipoli went on to say in the email, “DECC works in a protective bubble at DPD headquarters which insulates them from the consequences of their performance.”

He said it’s the firefighters on the front lines who are an easy target at which residents can direct their anger.

“I’m at a loss to figure out a strategy that will force the folks on the second floor to take appropriate action to remediate the performance issues at DECC,” Sannipoli said in the email. “I think that continuing to document these deficiencies is a prudent CYA strategy.”

That email is one of 49 emails CBS 17 received back from the city of Durham in an open records request on Friday.

In 18 other emails, fire chiefs, captains, and liaisons talked about concerns regarding 911 calls not being answered, wrong units being sent to different emergencies, and the impact it’s having on response times.
In one email from July, one person said they called 911 seven times and couldn’t get through. In another email, one person said they called 911 10 times before they could get through.

Other emails revealed situations where the wrong units were dispatched to certain emergencies.

For instance, just last month in August, the Durham County Sheriff’s Office was dispatched to a Hazmat situation instead of the fire department.

In another situation, a car hit a building at 400 block of Gattis Street on July 4, but only one fire engine was dispatched. Fire officials said in the email the call was not coded correctly.

In another email, Ryan Campbell, business services analyst for DFD, sent data to Chief Robert Zoldos, that showed from June 22 to July 6, only 12.2 percent of Code 3 emergency calls were dispatched to the fire unit within 64 seconds.

According to the chart in the email, the national standard is for 90 percent of calls to be dispatched to the fire unit within that time frame.

CBS 17 has spoken with people in Durham for months who are frustrated with 911 calls going unanswered and the wrong units being dispatched to scenes, a problem that stems from the Durham Emergency Communications Center (DECC) not having enough 911 operators.

For months, 25 of the 60 positions at the Durham 911 call center were vacant.

Officials with the DECC said they are working to fill these positions as quickly as possible. They have hired seven new call takers and two new certified training officers.

They said 20 more 911 operators are expected to be hired and in training by the end of the year.

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