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Many 911 Calls Transferred When Seconds Count

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Many 911 Calls Transferred When Seconds Count

By Ben Hall. CREATED Jul 28, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - When you call 911, you expect to get help.

But a NewsChannel 5 investigation reveals there is a good chance you may get transferred.

The use of cell phones is sending 911 calls across county and city lines.

Operators must transfer the calls to the right jurisdiction, and sometimes emergency calls are transferred more than once.

That's what happened in Williamson County last month when Margaret Redmon called for help.

"I have an emergency," she told the 911 operator who answered. "I got home and my husband is laying the garage."

Her 62-year-old husband, Eddie Redmon, had suffered a stroke.

Margaret Redmon remembered, "I immediately asked him if he's OK and he..."

She could not finish before crying.

The 911 operator asked, "What's your address?"

"--- Seminole Drive," she said.

The operator asked again, "Can I get that?"

Redmon said, "Seminole Drive, Franklin, Tennessee."

She lives in Williamson County, near the Davidson county line.

But her emergency call traveled to a cell phone tower across the county line -- in Davidson County.

"OK, hold on a second," the operator said. "You got Nashville. Let me transfer you to Franklin, OK?"

Redmon replied, "Oh, please hurry."

On the tape you hear a dial tone and moans from Redmon's husband.

After the transfer, Franklin city's operator picked up.

"911 what's the location of the emergency?"

Redmon repeated, "--- Seminole Drive, Temple Hills in Franklin, Tennessee."

"Seminole Drive?" the Franklin operator asked.

Redmon spelled the road name and said, "We're in Temple Hills, third street on the right. Temple Hills subdivision."

"Hang on a second," the operator said. "You have the city of Franklin. You're out in the county. I'm going to transfer you."

Redmon pleaded, "Oh, please hurry."

During that time, Redmon called her daughter on a different cell phone, and the whole thing is captured on her voice mail.

"I could just hear her on the phone with 911 having to give her address a third time, having to spell out the street name," Laura Corder said.

More than a minute after she first dialed -- the call is transferred from Franklin city to Williamson County 911.

A new operator answered the call, "911, what's your emergency?"

Redmon again gave her address and spelled the street name.

An ambulance arrived 10 minutes later, but Eddie Redmon had already stopped breathing.

A month after his death, Margaret Redmon and her daughter, Laura, want to keep this from happening to someone else.

"I'm upset at the process," Laura Corder said. "I don't know how that can be an efficient process for anyone."

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked the Director of Williamson County's Public Safety Office, "How unusual is it to have a call transferred more than once?"

"That is a little more unusual, but it is normal," Bill Jorgensen responded. He later added, "Here in Williamson County we transfer calls every day."

He defended the county's reaction time and said the call was transferred among three departments fairly quickly.

"It was 65 seconds," Jorgensen said. "I don't know if that made a difference in that patient's life or death situation."

Williamson County is now checking the cell tower in Davidson County that picked up the Redmon's call -- to see if it is picking up too many calls from Williamson County.

"We will look at that cell site to make sure it's being appropriately routed," Jorgensen said.

But NewsChannel 5 Investigates discovered hundreds of cell phone calls each month in Williamson county go to the wrong 911 center.

Cell calls go to the nearest cell tower. If that tower is in another county or jurisdiction -- the call must be transferred.

"It's challenging for the users. It's challenging for the people receiving those calls. We could lose calls in the transfers," Jorgensen said.

Nearly one of every four 911 calls is transferred at least once in Williamson County.

It's similar in other counties.

"You call 911 and you expect to get help right then, not transferred and then transferred again," Redmon said.

If she had called on a land line, the call would never have been transferred, but many people just have cellphones.

"The process is flawed," Laura Corder said. "It has to be fixed. It's crazy that many calls are transferred."

In Williamson County, 85% of 911 calls are made on cell phones. New technology called "Next Generation 911" is still two years from being implemented.

Next Generation 911 will identify the longitude and latitude of the cell phone making the call and route the call to the appropriate 911 center.

Jorgensen said the reality of the current technology is that people calling on cell phones have a chance of getting the wrong 911 dispatch office -- and of being transferred.

Ben Hall

Ben Hall

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Ben Hall is a veteran reporter at NewsChannel 5. He has covered the state legislature, presidential campaigns and is presently part of NewsChannel 5's award-winning investigative unit.