Woman says 911 operator helped her save her husband, calls on Durham to address operator shortage

North Carolina

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — A Durham woman has sent letters to city officials and will be addressing the city council on Thursday about her concerns regarding a shortage of operators at the Durham 911 call center.

Erica, who doesn’t want to release her last name, said it was a 911 operator that helped save her husband’s life on Nov. 28, 2018.

Erica (CBS 17 photo)

“My husband was working out, and just like he normally would do, he was getting our 18-month-old ready for school,” she said. “He came upstairs, went in the bedroom, and collapsed.”

Erica said her 30-year-old husband, who was born with a hole in his heart went into cardiac arrest.

“So I called 911, and they answered really quickly,” she said. “They coached me through what was going on and help me start CPR.”

She said EMS quickly arrived. Her husband had a long road to recovery, but he survived.

“Without the immediate response of the EMS team and 911 operators, there’s zero chance he would have survived,” she said.

When Erica started to see reports of a 911 operator shortage in Durham, she became concerned and sent emails to city leaders.

Erica and her family

“I just wanted to find out to make sure that the city’s 911 operators have as much support as they need to make sure that if anyone needed the city’s response, that they would have it quickly,” she said.

Currently, there are 26 vacant positions at Durham’s 911 call center and for six months the city didn’t have enough 911 operators to handle the call volume.

Sometimes there were only two 911 operators answering calls during a shift.

As a result, an average of 1,900 calls had to route to Raleigh Wake 911 every month so they could be answered.

On June 1, three new 911 operators started taking calls at Durham’s 911 call center after they completed training.

City officials said they no longer needed RaleighWake 911 to help them answer calls.

But over the weekend, CBS 17 learned that three percent of the calls that came in on Saturday were not getting answered within 60 seconds.

CBS 17 was able to get an exclusive look inside Durham’s 911 call center this week and saw there were four 911 operators taking calls in the middle of the day.

City officials said they have been able to increase their staffing during high call volume times.

But currently, the 911 call center still has a total of 26 vacancies.

“It’s hard to tell whether things are under control and whether there are issues,” Erica said. “Twenty-six vacancies seem like a lot, is that an issue? Or are those built into the system so that we can have extras if needed.”

CBS 17 took Erica’s question to city leaders.

Durham city officials said they currently have the staff needed to handle calls appropriately, but Deputy City Manager Bo Ferguson said new staff would help.

“Every call-taker gives us more capacity and takes a little more of a burden off of folks on the floor, so we’re very committed to getting those positions filled,” Ferguson said.

Erica will be speaking during Thursday’s virtual city council work session.

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