Expert: 911 response could have been better in crash
Sinking car call could have been handled better, observer says
While Northwest Central Dispatch investigates the 911 call from Henry Laseke -- an 89-year-old Arlington Heights man who accidentally drove into a pond near his home and later died -- a national expert who listened to the call said the dispatcher could have handled it differently.
Gary Allen, who spent 20 years as a dispatcher and edits 911dispatch.com based in California, listened to Laseke's call from last Thursday and had a few observations. The site is the evolution of what used to be Dispatch Monthly Magazine, an industry trade publication on 911 procedures and news.
Allen said it seemed the dispatcher was repeating what Laseke said too often, which takes up critical time.
"This is one of those situations where the clock is ticking. Repeating information takes up a certain amount of time on a call where time is everything," he said.
On the call, the dispatcher can also be heard repeatedly telling Laseke to calm down and the two often talk over one another.
"The dispatcher should tell them that help is on the way, but only once or twice," Allen said. "Every word has to be chosen carefully to elicit as much information as possible because at some point the call is going to end."
Choosing the right questions is also key to saving time, he said.
The dispatcher asked Laseke for his address five times, asks if he is in the car and what kind of car he is in.
"You have to choose your questions very carefully so you gain the most information possible," Allen said.
Two neighbors jumped into the water to try to help Laseke but were unable to open any doors or windows on the car.
Arlington Heights Fire Department dive crews removed the vehicle from the water and took Laseke to Northwest Community Hospital, where he later died.
Since the 911 call from Laseke and five others from neighbors were released on Monday, Northwest Central Dispatch announced it was conducting an inquiry -- as is the Arlington Heights Police Department, which is standard for such a major case.
While what happened to Laseke doesn't happen often, it does happen.
About 400 people nationwide die every year from drowning in their cars, according to the National Highway Traffic Administration.
However, people have escaped their vehicles in situations similar to Laseke's.
During the 911 call, where Laseke was responsive for about 90 seconds, the dispatcher did not give any tips to Laseke to advise him on how to get out of his car, something that might have been helpful since a car can sink quicker than emergency responders can get there, Allen said.
Some dispatch companies use procedure cards that outline what to do or ask in case of any emergency, including a sinking vehicle.
On the protocol card for a sinking vehicle, it says the first question should be, "Has the water outside reached the bottom of your window yet?"
If the answer is no, the dispatcher should advise the person to roll down the window and get out, or try to break the window by hitting it in the corner with a sharp object if they can't open it, according to the card. There are tools that can be purchased and kept in the glove compartment for such an emergency.
If the answer is no, the dispatcher should advise the person to let the car fill with water and just before the water covers their head, take a deep breath.
According to the card, once the car is full of water, the person should be able to open the door and get to the surface.
Northwest Central Dispatch confirmed they do have their dispatchers trained to use protocol cards from Priority Dispatch, but officials said they will not comment until the inquiry is complete.
"It's tough to say if more could have been done to save him, but any segment of time that can be cut from the process is important, which is why the dispatcher needs to do what they can to move as fast as possible," Allen said.
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