911 Dispatcher Caught Snoring on the Job

Dispatcher on administrative leave

Calling 911.  It’s the moment of your greatest need. 

But instead of help, all you get is silence.

Just after midnight on April 4, a Montgomery County woman called 911 because her husband was having trouble breathing and was starting to turn blue.

Following protocol, a 911 call-taker answers and quickly transfers the woman to a dispatcher.

He was supposed to send an ambulance.

But in the 911 recording call obtained by the News4 I-Team, all you can hear is silence in response to the woman’s repeated hellos.

Caller:  “Hello?  Hello?  Hello?"

Realizing something isn't right, the original call-taker breaks in.

911 Call-Taker: "OK, hold on one second ma'am.  Let me try to get them on the line again."

Caller:  "OK.  Oh."

Sleeping Dispatcher: ((Snore))

That light snoring you hear is the original dispatcher who has fallen asleep.

The snores get louder as a new dispatcher tries to help the woman.

2nd Dispatcher:  "Put one hand on his forehand, the other hand underneath his neck and tilt his head back."

Caller:  "Yes."

Sleeping Dispatcher:  ((Snore))

Caller:  "Uh huh."

"The employee was immediately removed from the floor by his supervisor that night and placed on administrative leave with pay pending the inquiry,” Montgomery County Assistant Fire Chief Scott Graham said.

According to Graham, the sleeping dispatcher is an experienced uniformed firefighter who was 17 hours into a 24-hour overtime shift. 

The News4 I-Team found Montgomery County dispatchers work twice as long as other dispatchers in the D.C. area. In Fairfax County, dispatchers work 12.5-hour shifts.  In Prince George’s County they work a 12-hour shift.  The District has a 10-hour shift.

Jeffrey Buddle is the Vice President of the Montgomery County Career Fire Fighters Association IAFF Local 1664, which represents firefighter dispatchers.

Buddle said while a 24-hour shift “may seem like a long shift to someone who’s not used to that schedule, it’s something that's just normal for a firefighter to work."

Both he and Graham say this is the first time someone has fallen asleep during a 24-hour shift.

Caller:  “Now he's all blue.”

Sleeping Dispatcher:  ((Snore))

In the recording, the second dispatcher and the woman he was trying to help are both confused by the snoring.  The second dispatcher repeatedly asked if the woman’s husband was making the noise.

Graham confirmed to News4 it is instead the original dispatcher.

The News4 I-Team counted at least 18 snores on the recording before the sleeping dispatcher woke up, not realizing the woman had been on the line for more than four minutes.

Caller:  “He stopped breathing for, for a little while.  And now I put, I put his, I put my...”

Sleeping Dispatcher:  “What's the address?”

Caller:  “ ...hand on his chest.”

Sleeping Dispatcher:  “What's the address?”

Caller:  “Uh huh.”

Sleeping Dispatcher:  “What's the address?”

Caller:  ((Crying))

Sleeping Dispatcher:  “Ma'am, what's the address?”

Graham said the patient was transported to a hospital and did not have any “adverse effects as a result of the call.”

He said 911 dispatchers are now working in a renovated call center where a supervisor can now see all of the dispatchers.  The county, he said, now hopes this will prevent anyone from falling asleep.

As for the issue of 24-hour shifts, it could come up this fall when the new collective bargaining agreement goes into negotiations.

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