When Seconds Count: A WGEM News In-Depth Report - WGEM.com: Quincy News, Weather, Sports, and Radio

When Seconds Count: A WGEM News In-Depth Report

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One of up to a handful of dispatchers at the Quincy-Adams County 911 center. If one dispatcher is tied up with a non-emergency call, the other can handle the true emergency. One of up to a handful of dispatchers at the Quincy-Adams County 911 center. If one dispatcher is tied up with a non-emergency call, the other can handle the true emergency.
Tonya Anderson dispatches for six agencies in Brown County. The county can't afford a second dispatcher so calls to 911 that aren't true emergencies can tie up the line if there's a real emergency. Tonya Anderson dispatches for six agencies in Brown County. The county can't afford a second dispatcher so calls to 911 that aren't true emergencies can tie up the line if there's a real emergency.
Adams County EMS heads inside a home on Quincy's north side, where a patient is having trouble breathing. This is a legitimate call but crews say they're often dispatched for the smallest of ailments that aren't true medical emergencies. Adams County EMS heads inside a home on Quincy's north side, where a patient is having trouble breathing. This is a legitimate call but crews say they're often dispatched for the smallest of ailments that aren't true medical emergencies.
Paramedic Bill Ballard prepares to give a patient oxygen inside an Adams County EMS ambulance. He's frustrated being dispatched to some medical calls he says aren't true emergencies. Paramedic Bill Ballard prepares to give a patient oxygen inside an Adams County EMS ambulance. He's frustrated being dispatched to some medical calls he says aren't true emergencies.
QUINCY, Ill. (WGEM) -

If you have a life-threatening emergency, you call 911 and you want help right now.

But far too often, dispatchers say callers tie up the line for what isn't a true emergency. It's wasting time when seconds count.

You want paramedics dispatched as quickly as possible. But at the Quincy-Adams County 911 Center, where ambulance calls are dispatched, time is often wasted by ridiculous calls.

In fact, the center took a call one time when someone couldn't get money out of an ATM.

"They're saying the transaction happened and we didn't get no money," the caller told a 911 dispatcher.

"I mean the officer can't get the money out of the machine though," the dispatcher replied. "She'll just have to talk to the bank about it tomorrow."

Of the roughly 110 911 calls per day, the center's director says just under half are true emergencies.

"We get people who call 911 because they're inconvenienced and they want to express their outrage to some authority," Director Steve Rowlands said.

And some people call ambulances for the smallest of ailments.

"For me personally, it's frustrating," Adams County paramedic Bill Ballard said.

Ballard says non-emergency calls can hurt response time for legitimate medical emergencies, like the time a woman was having trouble breathing.

"We would have been tied up for minutes," Ballard said. "Several minutes while that lady would have been suffering and waiting, or potentially waiting."

Fortunately, Adams County has a handful of dispatchers on duty, so if one is tied up with a non-emergency call, another can respond to a true emergency.

But in less-populated Brown County, that's not the case. Brown County can only afford one dispatcher to answer calls for six agencies. 

So if you waste time on the lone 911 line, then someone calls with a true emergency from a landline, "they get a busy signal, so the consequence is the person who truly needs help can't get it," said Mt. Sterling Fire Chief Brian Gallaher.

One woman called in to Brown County with this request.

"The kids got a pool up and I was just wondering, 'do you guys still put water in the swimming pools?'" the woman asked.

If you're wasting dispatcher Tonya Anderson's time, you're in for a rude awakening.

"It's not nice, but I got to put you on hold because I have another call coming in and it may be more important," Anderson said.

While she worries about being "not nice," the courtesy isn't always returned, as was the case with an abusive call to the Quincy-Adams County 911 Center when a man cussed out dispatchers.

The aggressive calls are more rare than those that waste time, and dispatchers can either hear them out or point them to the non-emergency line.

They don't want to discourage people from calling 911, but it needs to be a true emergency. If not, use the non-emergency line in your county.

If you ask for an officer or paramedic, they're obligated to respond. But if you intentionally and repeatedly abuse 911, you can be prosecuted and pay fines and/or serve jail time.

The Adams County State's Attorney's Office says prosecution for 911 abuse is rare, but the 2010 case against John Bourne, 48, is an example.

"He was disruptive to our operation," Rowlands said. "The number of calls. He was constantly calling and was asked to stop and we sent officers to his residence and he continued."

Bourne, who has a lengthy wrap sheet, was convicted of harassment by telephone, which is a misdemeanor. He ended up serving 30 days in jail and paying court costs, according to the Adams County State's Attorney's Office.

Adams County prosecutors say 911 abuse can also fall under disorderly conduct and can be a felony depending on the severity of the case and whether a false police report is filed.

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