The Washington Post

Snoring 911 operator heard on call

A woman worried that her husband was unconscious called Montgomery County 911 but was transferred to a sleeping, snoring rescue operator, according to an audio of the April call released on Tuesday. The breakdown was rectified in 38 seconds when the call was transferred to another 911 operator who was awake, Montgomery fire and rescue officials said.

“It's something we certainly don't want to happen and we don't think will happen again,” said Montgomery Assistant Fire Chief Scott Graham.

The sleeping operator, who is firefighter trained as both a call-taker and a dispatcher, has not been identified. He can be heard snoring in the background as the second operator handles the call. Things got confusing when the second operator questioned if the snores were those of the caller's husband. An ambulance was sent to the couple's house about 38 seconds after it should have been. The man was never in serious medical danger, and was released from the hospital without incident, Graham said.

He said a review of the incident cut two ways — absolutely no excuse for the sleeping but swift response on the part of the original call-taker.

The 911 operator was placed on administrative leave with pay. Graham would not comment on details of the department's internal investigation into the matter or the status of the dispatcher. Graham said he dozed off in the 17th hour of a 24-hour shift that includes a six-hour break. He was 20 minutes away from that break, during which he would have slept in an area of the dispatch center designated for doing so. The operator was set to work another 24 hour shift after the one he was on — the result of fire department and union overtime policies — but was sent home by supervisors, Graham said.

The event was rectified in part by the structure of how 911 calls are handled in the county. A call-taker in a central location receives the call and, depending on its nature, transfers the call to fire/rescue operators or police operators. The original call-taker can then monitor the response to the call that was just transferred — the dispatch of an ambulance or a patrolman, for example, Graham said.

In this case, the initial call-taker could tell nothing was happening. She rerouted the call and it was answered by another fire/rescue operator, Graham said. The line remained open to that first operator as well, which is why the snores can be heard in the background, Graham said.

Dan Morse covers courts and crime in Montgomery County. He arrived at the paper in 2005, after reporting stops at the Wall Street Journal, Baltimore Sun and Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser, where he was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He is the author of The Yoga Store Murder.


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