Union: Kan. dispatchers didn’t relay GPS coordinates of trapped victim to FFs
The Wichita firefighters’ union claims the Sedgwick County 911 dispatcher didn’t use locating tools for a 22-year-old who died in an apartment fire
By Chance Swaim
The Wichita Eagle
WICHITA, Kan. — The Sedgwick County 911 dispatcher who failed to relay the location of Paoly Bedeski, a 22-year-old who died in an east Wichita apartment fire, did not use tools designed to help locate callers.
Records show Bedeski called 911 at 3:58 a.m. on Oct. 13, the first call of many from a multi-story apartment complex near Central and Rock. After 53 seconds, the call went silent, but the dispatcher stayed on the line for more than three additional minutes.
Audio of the 911 call shows Bedeski twice stated her unit number — 306 — to the dispatcher. Elora Forshee , director of Sedgwick County Emergency Communications, said the county did not tell firefighters where Bedeski was because the dispatcher did not understand her.
Sedgwick County 911 operators have access to powerful and practical tools to locate a caller whose audio is unclear. The two most useful tools are cellphone GPS coordinates that plot the caller’s location on a map and a playback function on the computer-aided dispatch system that allows operators to replay audio from a recent call, The Eagle found.
The 911 dispatcher who answered Bedeski’s call did not use either tool to help rescuers find her.
Forshee said the dispatcher’s on-screen map showed Bedeski was in Apartment 304, the unit below the one she was actually in. Forshee says that apartment’s location — 304 — was relayed to firefighters within minutes, a relay the Wichita firefighters’ union says was done improperly. The dispatcher did not tell anyone that someone potentially trapped had called from inside 304, based on the GPS map, or 306, based on what Bedeski told him.
“It’s a multifamily dwelling, it’s four in the morning, and the potential for somebody to be trapped is there,” Forshee said. “But we don’t make assumptions or create narrative that isn’t there. We stick with facts and when we have that information, then we provide it. And unfortunately we just did not understand her when she was giving her apartment. You know, I wish we would have. We went with what we thought was solid.”
Forshee attributed the lack of response to Bedeski’s call on the call-taker not “intelligibly” hearing or understanding Bedeski, who pleaded for help and said that her apartment was on fire. The Sedgwick County 911 advisory board is expected to meet this week to discuss the call.
From the moment Bedeski got through to 911, a map on the dispatcher’s computer screen showed Bedeski’s call came from inside the northwest corner of the Brookhollow Apartments , where firefighters would later recover her body.
Sedgwick County 911 usually gets a stronger signal from cellphones the longer callers stay on the phone. Bedeski’s location showed she was between two address labels on the map: 304, the unit directly below Bedeski, and 306, Bedeski’s apartment.
“It was going in between 304 and 306,” Forshee said. “So yes, I said that that’s kind of the nearest one that it came up with, and then it plots out and anchors to 304.”
Forshee said Sedgwick County 911 did relay the location of Apartment 304 to firefighters. But that was not related to Bedeski’s call.
A separate panicked caller reported the fire to a different dispatcher from inside Apartment 304 before jumping out of her window.
Radio traffic from that time shows that the dispatcher who was on the phone with the woman in Apartment 304 shared that information with firefighters only after firefighters asked for an apartment number. And he did not indicate anyone was trapped.
As firefighters drove to the Brookhollow Apartments , they asked for a location of the fire.
” Possibly Apartment 304 right now,” a dispatcher said. There was no mention of any callers inside.
Bedeski’s family says the county’s mistakes on the call cost Bedeski her life. Ted Bush , president of the Wichita firefighters’ union, has said Bedeski could have been saved if 911 dispatchers had relayed her location to firefighters.
In a joint interview with Forshee and Sedgwick County spokesperson Nicole Gibbs , an Eagle reporter asked why the dispatcher didn’t play back Bedeski’s call.
“I’m going to jump in here,” Gibbs said. “Do you want your person dispatching units to the call or to the incident or do you want them to stop, do research and play back everything — and wait before they share information, I guess is kind of where we’re trying to figure out what you mean by that question.”
Forshee said it was a fair question.
“I asked the same question,” she said. “And again, this (call) was plotting out and showing to apartment number 304. . . . We had other callers giving Apartment 304. We had callers giving multiple apartment numbers in that 300 building. At that point, he believed we had the right location and the right apartment number. And there were other 911 calls coming in, and so he didn’t have any cause to believe that he didn’t have, at that point, a good location. And so he went forward answering additional calls that were coming in, knowing that there were other calls that needed attention as well, believing that he had a solid location.”
Missing 911 call
The Wichita Fire Department likely would not have known Bedeski called Sedgwick County 911 on Oct. 13 had it not been for a private investigator hired by the Bedeski family’s lawyer.
Sedgwick County 911 provided Wichita Fire Department investigators with the audio recordings from every 911 call that morning, except Bedeski’s. She was the first person to report the fire to 911.
The county also failed to provide the recording to the private investigator, who requested all of the audio files associated with the apartment fire under the Kansas Open Records Act.
After the investigator pressed for the record of Bedeski’s call, Sedgwick County 911 sent it to him. The county also sent the missing phone call to the Wichita Fire Department .
Sedgwick County officials called it an unfortunate oversight but insisted it was not an attempt to cover up 911’s mishandling of Bedeski’s call.
“There was no malicious intent, and it was simply an oversight of that time, and it’s an unfortunate oversight,” said Gibbs, director of strategic communications for Sedgwick County.
Assistant County Manager Rusty Leeds said the recording wasn’t included because of a mistake by a records custodian for Sedgwick County 911.
“There is nothing nefarious,” Leeds said. “There was no intention — she does not go through the director or the deputy director to get permission on these. She is the core person. So it was a mistake on her part.”
Leeds said he’s unaware of any other files that were not provided in response to requests from investigators or citizens.
“The way she explained it to me is the calls were labeled, and they both were labeled basically the same,” Leeds said. “And she thought — it was the same call taker — so she thought it was a single call that had been duplicated. But after she goes back and looks at it, she realizes, even though they’re labeled basically the same, they’re not the same call. So that’s where she made the correction and got that to the other guy that had asked for it and then turned around and sent it straight to fire and told them ‘Hey, I missed this one, here it is.’”
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