KCTV5 took a closer look at 911 wait times after viewers contacted our newsroom with concerns about how long they were put on hold when calling about accidents or crime scenes.
Craig Johnson was one of those who was put on hold.
His friend, Darryl Galberath, was hit by a car at 7:56 p.m. on Halloween while he was crossing 30th Street and Benton Boulevard. Police and paramedics were at the scene in less than 10 minutes.
However, it turns out that half of that wait time consisted of connecting Johnson with a live person to take his call.
Johnson sat on hold for 15 seconds listening to an automated recording before he gave up and hung up.
“That's a long time to wait,” he said. “It seemed like it was a long time to me.”
He then started running four city blocks to a nearby fire station. A call taker returned his call about three minutes later, and Johnson eventually picked up his phone to report the accident.
Records show Johnson’s 911 call about the accident was put on hold because of high call volume.
On Halloween night, the average hold time for a 911 call between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. was 45 seconds. Someone calling that night waited as long as seven minutes and 28 seconds.
Hold time concerns
Other people across Kansas City have questioned their 911 hold times saying those seconds and minutes mattered.
Teresa Tschirhart is one of them. She lost her son Stephen in October 2015. She found him unconscious and called 911.
Tschirhart sat on hold for more than a minute, then hung up and called her daughter for help.
She called 911 again and listened to an automated message for more than a minute. Then, a call taker finally answered.
Paramedics found a pulse when they arrived, but Stephen died.
“I always wondered if maybe they could have saved him, but I'll never know,” she said. “It's too late now.”
In June, Tony Shaw called 911 for his wife April. He sat on hold, stunned that he was hearing an automated recording and not connecting with a person.
His wife later died at the hospital.
Shaw says he feels like the system failed him when he needed help because he was alone and scared.
“When you call 911, you expect someone to help you and not be put on hold,” he said. “Those minutes did matter. I was sitting there watching her and there was nothing I could do.”
Kansas City police say they do their best to answer calls quickly, but that call volume can spike at any time and overwhelm the call center.
“On any given minute in that unit, I’ll see thirty calls holding,” said Capt. Christopher Sicoli with the Kansas City Police Department.
Police point to annual statistics that show many calls are unnecessary. About two-thirds of 911 calls received are considered non-emergency calls.
Sicoli said people complain about cooking concerns, trash pickup and their children not eating cereal.
“The number they know is 911,” he said. “More than anything else, they know 911.”
Police do encourage people to call 911 in emergencies. However, they also want to remind citizens to utilize the city’s 311 Hotline for city complaints. You can also call 816-234-5111 for non-emergency calls.
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