INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - If you need help, 911 is probably the most important number you will call. But if the calls for help outnumber the operators on staff, you might have to wait your turn in line.
That was the case for Grena Montgomery the day an 8-year-old was hit in the head with a sledgehammer.
Montgomery says she called 911 for help Aug. 14. But before anyone asked the nature of her emergency, she received the following voice message:
“You have reached 911 emergency dispatch. Do not hang up. If in danger lay down the phone and go to safety. Police will be dispatched. Otherwise, stay on the line for the next available dispatcher.”
Montgomery says she was shocked.
“It is an emergency. You are supposed to answer the first ring. It is ridiculous,” she said. “What if someone is losing their life?”
24-Hour News 8 took her concerns to the Marion County Sheriff's Department. That is the agency in charge of handling 911 calls in the county. Lt. Colonel Jeffrey Dine said it does happen.
“There are 27 phone lines that come into the building. If you are caller 29 you will be in hold mode until an operator is (free),” he said, adding there are about 17 to 20 operators working at any given time in Marion County.
24-Hour News 8 asked Dine if it is acceptable to manually put a caller on hold.
“Truly on hold, no. What they are waiting for is a call taker to be available. We can’t always schedule and budget for a major incident. We feel we have an acceptable number,” Dine said. “We do answer the phone most times in seconds.”
A call log of 911 records in Marion County revealed Montgomery was in what's called "setup mode” for more than a minute. It took 61 seconds for an operator to answer her call.
Dine says if this happens to you, do not hang up. Callers who hang up will go back to the end of the answering line.
“They was taking so long I just put the phone down and started attending to the boy,” Montgomery said.
That night the child was injured, 10 people called 911 for assistance. Officials said Montgomery was the ninth caller. In this case, help was already on the way. But the fear that won't always happen is a tough pill for her to swallow.
“I do not understand how you could be on hold when it is an emergency,” she said. “It is 911.”
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