Wrong House

“Hysterical elderly female. She had just woken up and found her 78-year-old husband unresponsive. I get the priority information, I ask if he is cool to the touch, and she panics even more, yelling uncontrollably. I bring her back and start providing her CPR instructions.

“Keep in mind that as soon as I have a general assessment of what kind emergency I’m dealing with and confirm the callers location, the appropriate units get dispatched. Our workstations consisted of two PCs, the PBX phone system, and a dispatch terminal. The county maintained a database of all of the valid residential addresses that would pre-populate on the dispatch terminal. The local phone companies maintained their customer caller records that would display on the PBX PC. Because time is of the essence during emergencies, whatever can be made more efficient and quicker, is. There is a key you could hit and transfer the address information from the Caller ID/PBX PC to the dispatch terminal. Shaving seconds off of the call start-to-dispatch times. If someone called and the address was not yet available on the county database, the system would attempt to find the closest match.  

“We are approaching the nine-minute mark and I start to get the ‘uh-oh’ feeling. I look at the map and they are not that far away from the fire station, first responders should have already been there. By this point, she has given up on the CPR, exhausted. I turn the secondary speaker to the fire radio frequency just in time to catch the paramedic on the ambulance request from her dispatcher, ‘Radio, can you have the caller confirm the address? We are out at the address you provided and there is no emergency here.’ 

“My heart sank.  

“I interrupt my caller’s devastating sob by asking her, ‘Ma’am, I just want to confirm that you are at…’ It’s at this point when I realized what I had done. The Caller ID information matched exactly what was transferred to the dispatch terminal with one exception – Rd., not Dr. 

“I ended up sending an ambulance to the wrong address because of my lapse in judgment. The caller’s address was not in the county database but the closest match was, and it was located on the opposite side of the county. I could have sworn they matched before I sent the call over to be dispatched. I swear, 100%.  

“As soon as I realized the error, I corrected the address and dispatched the correct units. I hang up the phone at 7:02am when EMS arrives on scene. 17 minutes after she woke up and called me for help. I still feel like that slight lapse in judgment on my part was the reason someone died. As soon as I made it into the car, I lost it. I killed him, me.  

“The next shift, everyone saw how much of a toll it took on me. Everyone offered words of encouragement, saying how there wasn’t anything you could of done, he was 78, blah blah blah. That day I got my first official corrective action (written up) for failing to confirm the caller’s location, my first official f*ck-up in over six years. I became afraid of the phone, and would drag myself and be the last one to answer.  

“I quit two days later.”