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Philadelphia, PA

Hiring need for emergency dispatchers causes 911 concerns

6abc Action News
6abc Action News
 2021-07-28

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When you call 9-1-1 in Philadelphia, you expect a dispatcher to pick up the phone within seconds.

But the people who spoke with Action News say that is just magical thinking.

The reality is that 9-1-1 is dealing with serious issues surrounding staffing concerns.

Resident Albert Palubinsky says about 11 p.m. on Monday, he and his neighbors were alerted by a woman walking her dog that a row home apartment building across the street was on fire.

He says what happened next was most disturbing.

"(I call 9-1-1, Kevin calls 9-1-1, my wife calls 9-1-1, and nobody answers the phone," said Albert Palubinsky.

He says several of them called 9-1-1, but they couldn't get anyone to answer.

RELATED: New class of Philly police recruits begin training; first since start of pandemic

"I say it lasted about 20 minutes because at first the phone had just rang and rang...and rang until it disconnected," Palubinsky added.

After alerting the occupants of the building, neighbor Kevin Little says he finally gave up and tried to put the fire out himself.

"I had two small fire extinguishers, so I was able to initially put the fire out, but it came back," said Little.

Beth Palubinsky finally had the bright idea to call the 18th Police District.

"And within two minutes, there was a fleet of fire trucks," said Beth Palubinsky.

Philadelphia police have admitted that 9-1-1 wait times are still too long due to an increase in call volume and staffing shortages.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney recently approved money to hire 75 additional dispatchers. The first group graduated last week.

Fortunately, once firefighters were alerted by police, they were able to put the fire out quickly.

But confidence in the 9-1-1 system has been shaken for residents here.

"The fault it seems to be is in a system that allows there not to be enough people to answer enough calls. How can that be," said Palubinsky.

Little added, "This was a wake-up call to us because if it hadn't been for the neighbors, I have, thank God for my neighbors."

Police are hopeful the hiring of 75 additional dispatchers will vastly improve wait times.

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