Paul Rolly: Utah heart attack victim dies after 911 runaround
Published: February 3, 2014 08:02PM
Updated: February 3, 2014 08:02AM
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Paul Rolly

A Draper man dialed 911 to report he was having a heart attack, but his call went to Salt Lake City’s dispatch instead of a service near his home. After transfers to other dispatch and confusion about his condition, his wife came home 40 minutes later to discover he had died.

Various officials — including Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder and Cottonwood Heights Police Chief Robbie Russo — say the Salt Lake Valley’s many emergency systems make tragedies like this inevitable.

“I have been trying to get us all together where we have one unified software platform for 911 calls,” said McAdams, adding that his efforts have been stymied by “turf wars.”

The confusion surrounding the Draper man and the delays in responding to his emergency can be traced to the fact that cellphone calls to 911 are connected to the nearest cell tower, said Winder. Calls from cities surrounding Sandy are routed from a Sandy tower, and Sandy is connected to Salt Lake City’s 911 system. The other system is operated by the Valley Emergency Communications Center (VECC), which covers all the other cities in the county, and unincorporated areas.

Sandy switched from VECC to Salt Lake City’s 911 system several months ago because of cost benefits and better technology associated with the capital’s new Public Safety Building, said Sandy police spokesman John Arnold.

Winder said he’s been warning law enforcement colleagues that multiple systems will lead to delays and other problems.

Russo cited a recent incident in which a driver thought his school bus was on fire in Cottonwood Heights. He called 911 on his cellphone but the fire station that got the call was on 1300 South and Main in Salt Lake City.

VECC’s new executive director, John Inch Morgan, said he is investigating what happened with the Draper man and is unsure if calls were dropped when transferred from Salt Lake City to VECC or if the man hung up.

The man’s wife reportedly told the emergency responders, who arrived about an hour after the first call, that her husband called her at work, told her he was having a heart attack but said that his calls to 911 were dropped.

Salt Lake City 911 Bureau Director Scott Freitag said records show the man called and as the dispatcher was getting his information, the call was disconnected. The man called again and got another dispatcher, but the first already had enough information about the address that he relayed to VECC. He said the man called a third time and said he was feeling better. When that information was sent to VECC, it canceled the response.

Money where your mouth is • Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, tells me that an acquaintance contacted him to see what the Legislature was doing about the incident at Uintah Elementary, where children’s lunches were thrown away in front of friends because their parents were behind on their accounts.

He had written a letter to the school and read it to Perry, who said it was tough and critical of school administrators.

Here’s the kicker: He enclosed a $500 cashier’s check for a school fund to cover accounts that are short “so this never happens again.”

prolly@sltrib.com