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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
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Metro Detroit Middle School Takes “Project Citizen” to Lansing

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Wondering what led some Metro Detroit students to draft a proposal mandating that 911 operators receive more training, I uncovered a reason for concern with emergency assistance, and not just with calls from children.

In Michigan, there are no minimum training requirements for 911 operators; usually the operators participate in a few classes on how to handle calls from children. In March, an 8-year-old called 911 because her mother had been shot. This 911 call will shock and amaze you. The child repeatedly said her mother was shot, while the operator repeatedly asked to talk to her mother. After four minutes, the 911 operator asked the child to go outside and look for the address; unfortunately it was too late to save her mother. The operator was not held liable because officials said the only thing she did wrong was the tone taken with the child.

In another heart-wrenching case, a 5-year-old boy called 911 when his mother collapsed. The operator thought it was a prank call. By the time police arrived, the boy’s mother was dead. A jury convicted the 911 operator of willful neglect, but on appeal, she won her case and is back on the job. Her defense was that she could not hear the child. If that was the case, how could she tell it was a prank call? Due to the negligence of the 911 operator, this young boy can’t have his mother back, so why does the operator get her job back?

Time is a factor when dealing with real emergencies. Until the 911 operator talks to the person, child or adult, they won’t know if it is a true emergency. There is usually a strong sense that something terrible is happening; you hear the urgency in their voice; you can hear that they are traumatized, especially a child.

The proposal that will be submitted next month began as a school project. “It’s part of a program call called Project Citizen, in which middle school students pick a problem in their community and write their own public policy to deal with the problem,” said teacher Deborah Limage. It is similar to the movie, “Pay It Forward.” Ms. Limage’s group chose to work on how 911 operators deal with children because so many of the children in the community have faced problems in the past. The class drew up a 14 question survey that was sent to 911 operators throughout the U.S. Of the 97 respondents, most agreed that they do not receive enough training on child callers. The children will be the keynote speakers at the May 24th annual meeting of the National Emergency Numbers Association in Lansing.

Michigan hopes to mandate a minimum of 40 hours training during the first 18 months of employment, and an additional 40 hours within 24 months of the operator’s hire date. Until then, parents must take responsibility for teaching their children how to call for help to that 911 operators will know it is an emergency. What your child needs to know:

  • Their address or the address where they are at the time of the emergency

  • What the emergency is (i.e. someone has been shot, someone broke into the house)

  • Why a parent or other adult can not come to the telephone

  • It is important to remain calm

There are certainly more 911 success stories than failures. 911 operators do save lives; however, there is room for improvement; the stories recounted herein are graphic evidence of this. Operators whose negligence allow emergency calls to go unanswered should be held accountable. These are avoidable incidents. When things like this occur, lawsuits typically follow. And, remember, a lawsuit is one of the public’s most important safety devices. The threat of a lawsuit deters negligent or intentionaly conduct. A successful lawsuit against offending conduct tends to prevent that conduct from reoccurring.

If you or a loved one is a victim due to the negligence of a 911 operator, contact an attorney to discuss your rights and options. Lawsuit Financial commends Mrs. Limage and her students for their hard work and dedication to “Project Citizen.” We support your proposal and wish you the best of luck in Lansing.