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Dispatchers stressed by kids dialing 911 on unserviced cell phones

By: Victoria Maranan Email
By: Victoria Maranan Email

DENISON, TX-911 dispatchers answer hundreds of calls everyday that deal with life and death situations, but they also run into calls made by children playing with cell phones.

Denison Fire Dispatchers received more than 900 calls from old cell phones this year and most of them are from toddlers. They were concerned lines would be tied up because of these calls, which could cause them to miss real emergencies.

Denison Fire Dispatcher Leisa Gailey answers up to 200 calls a day, including several from children who are playing with unserviced cellphones like this one:

Baby: "coo!"

Dispatcher: "Honey, let me talk to your dad."

"This is a nightmare for call centers when a child has a phone and he's just pushing buttons and it's keeping 911 lines tied up," said Gailey.

Gailey said even if a cell phone doesn't have a signal, just as long that it has a battery, it can dial 911.
But the call is untraceable, which worries dispatchers.

"It's very stressful. Sometimes unknowing that you can hear background noise that there may be something going on and there's no way for you to trace their phone not knowing if there is a problem or not," she said.

"The child usually, obviously won't answer and can't answer. We'll coerce the child into giving their phone to their parent and then of course, you'll hear the child going to their parent, the parent won't be paying attention to them because they feel like the phone is invalid and not working but it is," said Denison Assistant Fire Chief, Bill Ray who said they run into this problem every year.

"It happens year round. We've had over 900 calls this year related to those types of cell phones that are 911 hang ups and that's what they are when they call 911 and we can't respond because we can't find their cell phone," he said.

Ray said , to his knowledge, they haven't missed any emergencies because of 911 hang ups, but they need help to make sure it doesn't happen in the future.

"If we have those kinds of numbers calling in every year, you can imagine how it is across the country because all these phones are all across the country and it's a big problem," he said.

Gailey said if you let your kids play with your phone, make sure it's not charged or remove the battery.

Ray said it's safer to give kids a toy phone instead because traces of lead, mercury and arsenic have been found in cell phones.


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