La. father's death is blamed on 911 flaws
Copyright 2006 The Times-Picayune Publishing Company
Fire Department defibrillator did not reach scene in Kenner
By MARY SWERCZEK
Times-Picayune (New Orleans)
David Letellier Sr. died of a heart attack recently, but his daughter believes it wasn't just her father's heart that failed him. She thinks the Kenner 911 system is also to blame.
Letellier collapsed in the yard of his Kenner home, less than a block from a Kenner fire station and its portable defibrillator. Police arrived immediately and an ambulance also was dispatched. But the Fire Department was not called.
"My dad's dead because the Kenner 911 system failed him," said Marie Scavo, a nurse, who pleaded recently with the Kenner City Council for help. "Something happened that's terribly wrong here."
Around 2:30 p.m. on March 4, Scavo's mother saw her husband, a retired Jefferson Parish fire captain, collapse. She called 911 immediately. The emergency operator alerted the Police Department and, in turn, East Jefferson General Hospital Emergency Medical Services.
"I can only tell you that we didn't get a call," said Fire Chief Mike Zito. "We did not get that call."
Zito said the Fire Department is supposed to be automatically dispatched on cardiac calls. Fire personnel are trained to be medical first responders, and trucks carry automated external defibrillators, which can jump-start the heart, in the six fire stations in neighborhoods throughout the city, Zito said.
Kenner police Capt. James Gallagher, a spokesman for the department, said the 911 operator acted correctly and the Kenner Fire Department was not called because the request was for an ambulance, not a cardiac call.
"The caller said the gentleman collapsed in the yard," he said. "We immediately sent the information to East Jefferson ambulance.
"Our main priority as a department is and always will be to save lives," he said, adding that a police officer was on the scene within a minute and a second was there within three minutes. "It wasn't until moments later that it became apparent that it was a bigger problem."
EMS responded within 9 or 10 minutes, Scavo and Gallagher said.
All 911 calls go into the Police Department, which then notifies the Fire Department and emergency medical services, if necessary.
Gallagher said that after Letellier's death, emergency operators were instructed to call the Fire Department out on all medical calls, not just cardiac-related calls.
"We did that in hopes to solve any problems," Gallagher said, adding that the Fire Department has requested it be stopped.
Zito said his department complained because the Fire Department was not notified before the change and is not equipped to go out on every medical call.
"We go on cardiac calls and when EMS needs us," he said. "The Fire Department is not set up and does not have enough trucks to go on every single medical call 24 hours a day in the city."
Zito said Letellier's case is one of several examples of problems he has had with the 911 system. Having the Kenner Police Department on a separate computer system from the Fire Department and EMS causes a delay and raises the chance for human error, said Zito and Phil Ramon, chief of staff for Kenner Mayor Phil Capitano.
"There's an automatic delay for us," Zito said.
Ramon has been keeping track of misdirected 911 calls and has informed the council and Police Chief Nick Congemi in memos and letters. He provided a list of 47 such calls from October 2001 to April 2005. Many of the mistakes involved either fire or EMS personnel being sent to the wrong address.
"It's not the way the system should run," he said.
Congemi could not be reached Tuesday.
Scavo said that her father, who was 64, saved someone's life from a heart attack while on the job in 1988 in the way that she wishes his life would have been saved.
"Time is critical," said Scavo, who works at an assisted-living center. "After six minutes you start having brain damage."
The station nearest to her parents' house in the 3900 block of Connecticut is seven houses away at Florida and 40th streets.
"I just don't want it to happen again," Scavo said. "I don't want another family to suffer like my family has suffered."