LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- A Little Rock couple said the city’s 911 system almost failed their friend while he attempted suicide, so they want to help fix it.
Pamela and Dan Butler got a call Tuesday afternoon from a friend who said he was depressed.
“He said that he was going to kill himself,” Pamela Butler recalled, “that he wanted to call and say goodbye.”
They immediately started driving to help him, who was attempting suicide, and Pamela dialed 911.
“I called. I let it ring,” she explained. “It rang, and it rang, and it rang.”
She called several times, adding that she let the phone ring for minutes at a time before calling back, thinking her phone’s signal might have been too weak to complete a call. Twenty minutes later, after reaching the parking lot where their friend had wrapped an extension cord around his next, a passerby called Police Chief Kenton Buckner, who sent an officer to them. Dan Butler, meanwhile, called UAMS, and the hospital transferred him to an ambulance dispatcher.
“From what we know of, no one ever reached a 911 operator,” Pamela Butler stated.
“She had her phone with 911 on it, and I had given her my phone to text my brother to, or anybody, to try to get 911,” Dan Butler added. “Because, again, we figured signal was just, for whatever reason, wasn’t working where we were at. So we were trying anybody else to try and call.”
Around 40 minutes after making her initial call, Pamela Butler said an ambulance finally showed up. She removed the cord from her friend’s next and performed chest compressions until he started breathing again. The longer they waited without seeing first responders, the more the Butlers wondered why it was so tough to get anyone to come.
“It’s really hard to think that, the longer it takes to reach 911, the longer it takes to get through, the less chance a person has,” Pamela Butler said.
“We don’t blame the people that are there,” Dan Butler added, “but what can we do to make people aware that there’s a need for dispatchers for 911?”
According to Laura Martin, the manager of Little Rock’s emergency dispatch call center, only four dispatchers were working that shift, instead of the eight that would ideally be there. Twenty of the 66 positions in the Little Rock Police Department’s communications division, which runs the call center, are vacant, ready to be filled, and have been for months.
“You talk to so many people every day that say, ‘I just want to help people.’ (We should be) getting them into these 911 positions,” Pamela Butler said, “where they are the first person in line to save a life.”
During the period between 12:30 p.m. and 12:55 p.m. Tuesday, when Pamela was calling, Martin said the 911 call center received 108 calls, an abnormally high call volume, which is why it was so hard for the Butlers to reach an operator.
In 2016, the call center received an average of 1,720 calls per day, or roughly 72 per hour. That is a three percent increase over 2015.
“If I can’t get 911 on the phone, I can’t get help,” Pamela Butler said. “And, if every moment that goes by is another moment that I have to wait for help, am I going to be able to get help?”
She wants the city to do more to advertise the number of openings in its call center. She also would like to see more information for residents about how to use 311, the city’s number for general service requests, as well as the police department’s non-emergency line, (501) 371-4829.
“The non-emergency number, you’re still getting the same dispatch, but you’re a lower priority,” she mentioned.
She also wished that more people knew CPR, thinking that might alleviate some of the strain placed on emergency dispatchers.
“Basic first aid,” she said. “Go a day, spend a Saturday, get those basic certifications. Then we can save each other’s lives.”
To get a job as a dispatcher, Little Rock asks for a high school diploma, as well as some customer service experience. Click here to begin the application process.
MEMS offers free CPR training, which can be held at the agency’s headquarters or at any location of your choosing. The schedule a session, click here or call 501-301-1400.