Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My heart is crying on the inside.....

Grandmother bled to death after Comcast mishandled emergency calls, suit alleges

Posted October 27, 2010 at 10:09 a.m..

BOYNTON BEACH — The 81-year-old grandmother screamed for the emergency phone dispatcher to send an ambulance. Blood gushed from her left foot after a freak accident in her suburban Boynton Beach home.

"Help me! Help me, please! Help me! Help me!" Sidell Reiner pleaded in recordings obtained by the Sun Sentinel.

She never got that help. More than an hour after that phone call, her husband of 62 years came home to find her lifeless on their bedroom floor, and blood throughout the house. Sidell Reiner had died with the phone next to her, her family's attorney said.

Reiner's widower now wants answers to how phone operators heard her cries for help, yet she ended up bleeding to death last Thanksgiving. Seymour Reiner filed a lawsuit last week against Comcast, the couple's phone provider, and has filed notices of intent to sue the city of Boynton Beach and Palm Beach County Fire Rescue as well.

Reiner cut herself when a piece of crystal glassware fell on her foot as she was preparing the holiday dinner for her family. Her husband had left to pick up a grandson at the airport. The Reiners' three children hadn't arrived yet. She was home alone.

In a panic, Reiner dialed "0" and reached a Comcast operator. The operator transferred the call to a Boynton Beach police dispatcher, but Comcast was unable to find Reiner's address and give it to the emergency dispatcher, according to the suit filed in Palm Beach Circuit Court.

It took 16 minutes to pinpoint Reiner's address, to establish she lived in unincorporated Palm Beach County and for county paramedics to arrive, according to the lawsuit. When paramedics did get there, they found the doors and windows locked, and attempted to look inside, according to Palm Beach County Fire Rescue records.

When no one answered the door, the paramedics left, deeming the call "unfounded," the records show.

"Nobody took responsibility in saving her," said Gary Cohen, the family's attorney. "No one went that extra mile and did what they needed to do."

The negligence lawsuit filed against Comcast seeks an unspecified amount in monetary damages.

Palm Beach County Fire Rescue Capt. Don DeLucia said it appears paramedics followed procedure, and that there has been no inquiry into the Nov. 26 response to Reiner's calls for help. He declined to answer further questions because of the litigation.

Boynton Beach Risk Manager Chuck Magazine said his city's dispatchers did what they were supposed to do — take the call and then transfer it to county fire-rescue once it was determined Reiner lived in unincorporated Palm Beach County.

Comcast spokeswoman Marta Casas-Celaya said her company does not comment about pending court cases and declined to answer general questions about services provided when a caller dials "0."

Someone who presses "0" on a Comcast phone line is greeted by an automated recording offering services in English and Spanish. After making a selection, the recording says: "If your call is a 911 emergency, please press '0.'"

Cohen said he doesn't understand why Comcast was unable to track down Reiner's address.

"They have her address when it comes to a bill, but when it comes to saving her life, they can't find her address?" Cohen asked.

Recordings of some of Reiner's calls that were transferred to police dispatch capture the words of a panicked woman. Cohen said she appears to have dialed "0" at least 10 times, but sometimes hung up without saying anything.

She repeatedly tried to give her address, but operators could not understand her because she was in such apparent agony.

"Sorry but, I … I can't speak!" she screams when asked her address at one point. "I can't!" The phone is then disconnected again.

At another point, the Boynton Beach dispatcher asks the Comcast operator if she has the caller's address.

"Her phone number, when we put in her phone number, it is showing that there is no information available on that number," the Comcast operator says.

"Oh, goodness," the Boynton Beach operator responds.

Cohen said he doesn't know how anyone could hear Reiner's desperate appeals and not communicate the evident seriousness of her condition to paramedics.

"This was a life-deciding call and there doesn't seem to be a lot of communication that this is a desperate situation," Cohen said.

The paramedics left at 9:47 a.m. Seymour Reiner and his grandson walked into the house more than an hour later, and discovered the body.

For more than six decades, the Reiners were at each other's side. They were married after Seymour served in the Navy during World War II. He owned a Manhattan dry cleaner, while she stayed home with their children and later did bookkeeping for the family business.

They retired to suburban Boynton Beach in 1996.

Reiner, 85, said in an interview that he wants to ensure that what happened to his wife doesn't happen to anyone else.

"It was a tragedy and it shouldn't have happened, but it did and nothing is going to bring her back," he said.

Jon Burstein can be reached at or (954) 356-4491.

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Friday, October 1, 2010

APCO president: Training certification programs are a must

Sep 14, 2010 6:01 PM
By Glenn Bischoff

A couple of weeks ago, Urgent Communications spoke with Dick Mirgon about his year as president of the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials. This week we catch up with Bill Carrow, the communications section chief for the Delaware State Police, who last month began his term as APCO’s president. Carrow spoke extensively about one of his pet projects — training certification for 911 telecommunicators — and the progress that has been made to date.

Statewide training certification is sorely lacking nationwide. What is APCO doing about it?
The Professional Human Resources Taskforce (ProCHRT) was unveiled during National Public Safety Telecommunicator Week in 2009. The first step was to establish some very specific goals, first and foremost, to study what each state is doing, or what they’re mandating, in the way of training certification for telecommunicators. We knew that this was a nationwide problem. We knew that we had bits and pieces of training going on, some more elaborate than others — and that’s no way to run an airline, much less a public-safety answering point. You see in the media all the time stories about 911 calls that went awry.

The Denise Amber Lee tragedy has become the poster child for such events, has it not?
That’s what I was leading up to. You see these events on a weekly basis, but the Denise Amber Lee Foundation really hit home. We started studying the Denise Amber Lee case to understand what had happened. Two years prior to that event happening, APCO’s Florida chapter had been pushing for training certification across the state, but wasn’t successful.

What were the hurdles?
The hurdles basically were funding, number one, and, number two, getting the various entities down there — the sheriffs, the police and fire — to fully understand that this not only should be a requirement, but that it also is a necessity.

What has been accomplished so far regarding ProCHRT?
Where we really started gaining some ground is when we realized just how few states have any kind of mandated training. When you consider that the person who runs a tanning booth is required to have more training than our telecommunicators who are handling life-and-death decisions every day, that’s wrong. We now have an interim report that provides a report card for the country up to this point. It delineates the training that is going on state by state, and lists any agencies that are Project 33-compliant within a given state. There are 17 of those right now.

After reviewing this report card, what grade would you give in terms of the level of training certification across the country?
It would be a grade of “F.” There’s a lot of room for improvement.

What needs to be done? What’s the first step?
Basically, we wanted to gather information via ProCHRT that would let us create a tool kit that our members could use to go back to their home states and push for training certification. We never had this kind of information before. The next step is to use the success we’ve had in the state of Florida as a starting point for success in other states. Arkansas is one of those states — it has proposed legislation that was based on what they saw in Florida. I think this is going to be a groundswell. It’s not insurmountable anymore.

What else would you like to see accomplished in the coming year?
Right along those lines is promoting our Project 33, which has just been revised for 2010. It has been beefed up by adding the fire and EMS pieces to the dispatch function and by increasing the minimum requirements for all positions. My agency just went through it. That was one of the goals I set for myself — I wanted my agency not only Project 33–compliant, but also fully accredited.

Why was that so important to you?
When you do those things, you’re showing people that you’re trying to meet the best-of-the-best standards. So, what we want to do is promote that to every chapter, to show the importance of getting individual training programs P33-compliant.

Ed: Florida Gov. Charlie Crist signed into law in June a bill that requires 911 telecommunicators in the state to become certified and compile 232 hours of training before handling an emergency call.