From a young age, people are drilled on basic emergency procedure — namely, the three-digit number to call when disaster strikes. But what happens when you call 911 and nobody answers?
That was what one frantic mother in Fort Worth, Texas, said she went through on June 16 when her 2-year-old toddler Mila suddenly stopped breathing and started changing color shortly after being put to bed.
Jamie Haswell first assumed she must have done something wrong when she dialed 911.
“It just went to a recording,” she told KXAS-TV. “And my initial thought was ‘I’m not doing this right.’ I just, I’ve never called 911 before and thought that it would be a person that answered the phone.
“Honestly I thought, I thought my baby was dying in my arms.”
When she failed to get through to someone at the number, she did the next thing she could think to do: She ran outside, screaming for help. She recounted her harrowing tale later in a Facebook post that showed just how serious her situation could have been if calling 911 were her only means of accessing help.
“Neighbors rallied, drove us to emergency facility and also tried 911,” she wrote. “No one could get through. Numerous people tried and tried and failed to get anyone on the phone. I understand flooding the system is not conducive either, but what else would you do when witnessing such a horrifying scene.
“I’m told that this is a ‘real problem in Fort Worth’ and sharing this to possibly reach someone that has any idea what can be done about this. I’ve filed a formal complaint with the city. What would you do if our supposed lifeline to emergency services was nothing more than an automated recording for minutes?”
She also added that for the few neighbors who did manage to get through, it took them 12 to 15 minutes to get a live operator.
“TWELVE-FIFTEEN minutes is a DEATH SENTENCE for cardiopulmonary arrest,” she continued. “Praising God for my girl being her normal self today, for my mom, my friends, and my neighbors. It takes a village.”
According to Fort Worth Police Chief Neil Noakes, the 911 call center has been dealing with understaffing. Noakes apologized to Haswell and explained that those who are on staff are already working mandatory overtime and they’re looking for ways to get more people to handle the calls.
City council member Cary Moon also acknowledged the problem and hopes that Haswell’s story will bring attention to the very serious issue.
“At no point should a Fort Worth resident make a phone call to 911 and that phone call not get answered by 911,” Moon said. “I think we will see that this has been more common than we were told and we need it corrected right away.”
Doctors are saying Mila probably experienced a febrile seizure — a scary but “relatively common” and non-life-threatening incident. She is doing well now, but her mother has another thing to worry about.
While Haswell is glad that their story is being used to push for a solution, she understandably has some trust issues now — and a new fear that help is not just a call away.
“I was just very alarmed,” she said. “I feel like 911 is supposed to be our lifeline in any sense of true emergency … I feel like I’ve lost faith in 911 at the moment.”
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