Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has Show More
Quick! Call 911!
That’s supposed to be the help hotline, or — for those of us who’ve actually had to make such a call — the closest thing to a real-life panic button when a life could be at stake.
We learn the digits in grade school, and cheer the stories of how youngsters with the presence of mind to follow the directive end up heroes.
But in Nassau County, three recent incidents could be shaping residents’ perceptions — and changing expectations — of whether help will be on the way.
In November, Bill Easteadt, a New York City teacher from Massapequa, said his wife, Diana, called 911 because their toddler son was feverish, lethargic and listless.
She got a recording telling her to hold, he said.
She hung up. And dialed again. And was put on hold.
The child got to Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip after a neighbor called the Massapequa Fire Department.
In December, Jim Breidenbach, a Bethpage native who works as an accountant in Amsterdam, was on Long Island for a visit with his mother when he said he saw two men with ski masks and hoods enter a TD Bank Branch in Massapequa.
Breidenbach said he called 911.
And he said he was put on hold. Monday, he forwarded from Amsterdam a screen grab from his cellphone, which shows a call to 911 on Dec. 27 lasting four minutes.
Police officials, however, say he was on hold only for one minute and 26 seconds.
But perhaps the most disturbing is a third incident, in Plainview, where a woman called 911 after a burglar was found to be hiding in her family’s home.
She was put on hold for several minutes, a response that Thomas Krumpter, Nassau’s acting police commissioner, said Monday “at this point, looks to be the result of human error.” He said that the department was investigating and that, “if appropriate, we will take significant disciplinary action.”
Krumpter said Monday that department statistics show that 96 percent of 911 calls are answered within 10 seconds — which he said is above the national average.
Jerry Laricchiuta, head of the county’s Civil Service Employee Association, which represents 911 operators, said a lack of adequate staffing and — as the CSEA alleged in a lawsuit filed in 2013 and later pulled back as part of an agreement with Nassau — training are longtime issues.
Krumpter said the department plans to hire another 20 operators in the spring, pulling staffing levels to their highest in years. He also said callers should wait if they get a recording because operators should answer within 40 seconds.
But that doesn’t sit well with Bill Easteadt, the toddler’s parent, and others. And no wonder. Yes, three recent incidents out of the hundreds of thousands of calls to Nassau’s 911 line is a minuscule number.
Except, of course, to those who need 911 assistance. To them, seconds in an emergency or a dangerous situation will feel like an eternity.