Provo's 9-1-1 Call Center Attacked for Mistake

Provo's 9-1-1 Call Center Attacked for Mistake

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Sam Penrod ReportingDispatcher: "Provo police emergency.
Scott Aston: "Send an ambulance, I'm dying."

That's a dying man's call to 9-1-1, but help never arrived. The Provo man called 9-1-1 back in October, but could not be found by rescue crews because they say he used a cell phone that could not be traced. Four days later he was found dead on an unknown cause. But was the problem an untraceable cell phone or failure to follow dispatch protocol?

It happened nearly six months ago, but it just was made public last week; in fact it was two months after the man died before his family was told he called 9-1-1. That concerns the man's family who believes Provo is trying to shift the focus away from what they call obvious mistakes of protocol made by 9-1-1 dispatchers.

Thirty-year old Scott Aston made what would be his last phone call from this apartment on October 1st. He dialed 9-1-1 pleading for help.

Dispatcher: "Provo police emergency.
Scott Aston: "Send an ambulance, I'm dying."
Dispatcher: "What's your address?”
Scott Aston: “915 North, 500 West.”
Dispatcher: “950 North, 500 West.”
Scott Aston: “Number twenty”
Dispatcher: “Number twenty.”
Scott Aston: “Yeah”
Dispatcher: “Can you give me the address one more time please?”
Scott Aston: “915 North, 500 West."

While staying on the line, another dispatcher makes an emergency broadcast for Provo paramedics to respond.

Dispatcher: "Respond, 950 North, 500 West, number 20. 950 North, 500 West, number 20. Thirty-year old male is on the phone, conscious and breathing. He is complaining he can't breathe, he seems to be breathing fine on the phone. He says he is dying and home alone."

Aston stays on the line with the dispatcher for another three minutes, until his cell phone call drops. When paramedics respond to 950 North, they find the Utah Valley Regional Medical Center. For 15 minutes they search the area, but do not make a connection to an "Apartment 20," half a block south. That's where Scott Aston waited for help that never arrived.

Carol Davis: "This isn't a case about a cell phone, this was a real person who had a real life."

Aston's sister is upset the city has put more focus on the need for cell phone calls to 9-1-1 to be traceable, instead of acknowledging much sooner to her family and the public that mistakes were made.

Carol Davis: "This could happen to anybody that you love too. You could be in the same situation, and maybe give us some support, band together and try and change it. Not just in Provo, find out how it works in your city."

Last week, Provo City outlined changes it has made in its 9-1-1 center, including asking more specific questions from callers who use cell phones. The substitute dispatcher who answered the call in question was fired.

In Utah, enhanced 9-1-1 service for cell phones is still about a year and half away. When it comes it will be able to give longitude and latitude coordinates for cell phones. Until then a call for help on a cell phone will have to include very clear directions.

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