Opinion: Come on, WANE-15…

If there’s one thing I intensely dislike about WANE-15 and their reporting, it’s going for all the sensational drama that can be wrought out of a situation.  Pointing out they were the first on the scene of this accident, or that shooting or whatever as if it’s something to be proud of … who cares who was first?  Do the victims care who was first on the scene?  Or my other personal favorite they seem to frequently indulge in, twisting or omitting the facts to sensationalize something. Â

Like this.

911 dispatch to fatal fire investigated
Fatal fire incorrectly dispatched
Megan Stembol

[…] During the call, a Fort Wayne dispatcher sent fire crews to the wrong address.

The address discrepancy centered around whether the fire was at a home on East Jefferson, or West Jefferson. The woman making the call is not exactly sure during the call, but the dispatcher sends crews out to West Jefferson, and does not ask for a cross street until five minutes and 24 seconds into the call. It’s only after six minutes on the phone that the correct address is established. That is something the director of 911 communications says concerns her.

The call may be heard here.  Ok, so what am I missing?  I listened to the same exact call, the woman making the call doesn’t sound confused or alarmed until the 5:24 mark when she’s trying to establish whether the fire department is on scene or not.  In fact, when the dispatcher does try to confirm anything, the caller almost sounds annoyed that the dispatcher has to ask.  It only becomes apparent at that 5:24 mark that something isn’t right.  Hindsight is 20/20 and that’s definitely proven here.

What’s more disturbing about this than anything else, to me at least, is the fact that it isn’t until 3:56 that the dispatcher states another call has come in and they now have an exact address.  Almost 4 minutes of this going on before anyone else thought to pick up the phone?  I didn’t hear the caller telling anyone else not to bother calling cause she had it covered.  There’s a lesson to be learned here for all of us – if something is going on and you don’t hear the sirens, perhaps it’s time to call 9-1-1.  If they know about it, they’ll tell you – otherwise, they may not know or be confused about what’s going on.  Whichever is the case, it doesn’t hurt to call and make sure they know what’s going on.

A 9-1-1 dispatcher can only be as accurate as the information provided to them.  The way this article was written, it really lays the blame at the feet of the dispatcher – which is wrong.  Could the dispatcher have done a better job by asking different questions?  Perhaps, but again, the caller didn’t sound all that confused to me.

The article, as written on their website, ends with this gem:

“This should have never happened,” said the caller, Heather Kennedy during a phone interview.

Mind you, this is abruptly thrown out at the reader from nowhere, almost as an after-thought, or something to inflame the your emotions.  The paragraphs before this talk about percentage of errors in regard to calls handled and some of the other 9-1-1 dispatch tools, like GPS and Enhanced 9-1-1.  Mentioning these other tools begged the question, which obviously wasn’t asked, of whether or not these were utilized in this instance and if they helped or would have helped if they weren’t used.  IF procedure required the dispatcher to use these tools to verify the caller’s location, and the dispatcher didn’t use it, that’s the story.  But this is not explored.

And what exactly is it that should never have happened?  Giving the wrong information, or the dispatcher not being a mind reader?  Or the tragic loss of life?  Or was this a quote lifted out of context from the conversation to play up the story?  My bottom dollar bet is the latter.

Just enough of the facts to make for one sensational story rather than an accurate reporting of what happened and why.

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  1. What about the fact that it was 2min 36 seconds into the call until firefighters were dispatched?

    The E911 question is another biggy that hasn’t been answered.

    In reality, for those who listened to the call, there was zero confusion about the address till about 5 minutes into it, because the dispatcher never asked east or west! The dispatcher flat out made a mistake when she said “You said west jefferson, correct” because a dispatcher should always ask fill-in the blank type questions, instead of yes or no questions due to the fact that a panicked person has the tendency to just agree with whats being said in an attempt to hurry things up.

    And finally, Stephen, I agree. Most local news sources are known for adding in a load of drama to stories. Even sometimes when it is not appropriate.

  2. Hi Eric,

    I wondered the same thing about the dispatch. In fact, you can hear the dispatch ask, “why hasn’t this happened? There it goes.” That’s not a direct quote btw. Was “it” some sort of software glitch? I didn’t hear the hurry-up the woman’s voice, but definitely some annoyance when asked to verify things. But that shouldn’t phase a dispatcher – and I didn’t get that feeling here.

    The first couple of times I listened to this, trying to figure it out, I tried to put myself into the dispatcher’s shoes as if this were unfolding right now, not knowing that what was ultimately discovered. There is a clue when the dispatcher asks north or south side and is told east side. That right there should have told the dispatcher that something was up and perhaps if she’d asked the direct question, or even asked to speak with whoever it was that said east side, it would have been resolved faster.

    The more I’ve thought about this, the more concerned I’ve become about a couple of things. With all the fires out your way and now this mess, is it time for an independent review of the situations? There’s enough of these “problems” that perhaps it needs to be examined by impartial people? With the FWFD Chief’s response to the Sheriff, does this demonstrate an ability to really look at what’s happened in an impartial way? And the bigger ability to make changes/reprimands if necessary?

    Whatever has happened, someone needs to investigate, lay out the time line with ALL the facts and none of the sensationalizing in a way that accurately tells what has happened – and take necessary action to insure it never happens again. I’ve always felt it to be one of the media’s responsibilities – to challenge the public when something isn’t right. This article definitely alerts the public that something is up, but goes a bit too far in presenting a judgmental, not entirely accurate picture.

    It’s too bad Rick Farrant isn’t with the Journal Gazette.


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