“Albuquerque Fire Chief Evaluating Training After Dispatcher Hung Up on Caller”? Why Yes, I Think That Would Be Prudent!

"No...now, see, Mr, Sanchez, this is NOT how we would like you to react with a 911 caller. Let's try it again..."

“No…now, see, Mr, Sanchez, this is NOT how we would like you to react with a 911 caller. Let’s try it again…”

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times: watch out for touchy 911 dispatchers.

Seventeen-year-old Esperanza Quintero called 911 after her friend Jaydon Chavez-Silver was shot last month. She tried to stop Chavez-Silver’s bleeding and gave him CPR.

“I am keeping him alive!” Quintero is heard saying on the 911 call, which was answered by dispatcher Matthew Sanchez, a ten-year veteran of the Albuquerque Fire Department.

Sanchez asked, “Is he not breathing?”

The teen responded, “Barely!”

On the recording, she can be heard frantically encouraging Chavez-Silver to keep breathing.

“One more breath! One more breath!” Quintero told here wounded friend. “There you go Jaydon. One more breath! There you go Jaydon. Good job! Just stay with me, OK? OK?”

Sanchez then asked again, “Is he breathing?”

Quintero responded, “He is barely breathing, how many times do I have to fucking tell you?”

Apparently this outburst deeply, deeply offended Sanchez, who felt that the use of the vulgarity justified him leaving the panicked teen to deal with her dying friend by herself. “OK, you know what ma’am? You can deal with it yourself. I am not going to deal with this, OK?” the dispatcher said, and he disconnected Quintero as she pleaded for help.

So there.

As you know, I’m a big fan of civility, and we really should discipline ourselves and our children to avoid profanity and  vulgarity in dealings with others, in the workplace or anywhere else. Mutual respect is a cornerstone of ethical conduct generally, and civility is how we recognize the inherent respect we owe every fellow citizen. Having one’s friend dying in front of you is a stressful situation, however, and I think the collective effects for fear, panic, desperation and stress creates sufficient adverse influences on a teen that a lapse of decorum should be excused or at least tolerated, don’t you? Particularly when the listener  is allegedly an adult and trained rescue personnel?

Jaydon died. A rescue squad was dispatched before the hang-up, which only means that what Sanchez did could have been worse.

Albuquerque Fire Chief David Downey  called the actions of dispatcher Matthew Sanchez on June 26 “unforgivable” and said Sanchez, who had the sense to resign, at least, should not have hung up on the caller. Downey  says he is examining the training procedures.

Good analysis. We can all stop worrying now, at least those of us in Albuquerque.

And we should be grateful, should we not, for Mr. Sanchez providing a superb lesson to all of our young people about the important of avoiding potty mouth?


14 thoughts on ““Albuquerque Fire Chief Evaluating Training After Dispatcher Hung Up on Caller”? Why Yes, I Think That Would Be Prudent!

  1. Is this an example of everyday life in the near future. We treat ‘ being offended’ as if it were a crime worthy of suspending the first amendment. In such a world, is it any surprise when 911 operators hang up when ‘offended’.

  2. I feel for guys like 911 operators. They deal on a daily basis with people on the worst day of their lives, right alongside morticians, policemen and firemen. It’s a stressful, shitty job that I do not envy, and I think that I’d be willing to entertain a real heartfelt apology if he wanted to offer one. But what I’d be willing to entertain perhaps isn’t really relevant, and the guy resigned… Which is probably the best resolution we could hope for. No one won here.

  3. First off, this was a horrible story that showed the value of human judgment in a critical situation. It was Dispatcher Sanchez’ job to help people and yet for this life or death situational call, he chose to disvalue another person’s life because of his personal reaction to obscenity. Like you stated in your blog, fear, panic, desperation and stress can bring out the worst in us—especially in a verbal sense and you cannot judge a person based on their instant reaction of their situational awareness.
    According to the book, Ethics in Human Communication, Dispatcher Sanchez did NOT have the capacity to sustain ethical values and apply them to the emergency call he answered that night. In verbal and nonverbal behavior, “civility” requires that we avoid communication processes that “violate the intrinsic worth” of other people, practices such as deception, verbal obscenity, and irrelevant attack’s on someone’s character. (2008, p. 44)
    Someone lost their precious life because of the decision NOT to help despite it being their responsibility to communicate survival. He has to live with that choice for the rest of his life and hopefully others can learn from this horrible story that every life matters and to put personal convictions aside—even if you are just having a bad day—to reach out to those who need your help.
    Brooke Hurst
    Drury University

    Ethics in Human Communication. (2008). In R. L. Johannesen, K. S. Valde, & K. E. Whedbee, Ethics in Human Communication (pp. 44). Long Grove: Waveland Press, Inc

    • “Someone lost their precious life because of the decision NOT to help despite it being their responsibility to communicate survival.”

      Though the dispatchers conduct is reprehensible, let’s be clear: the man lost his life because he was shot, not the dispatcher neglecting his duty. As you word it, you imply that the man’s life would have been sustained if the dispatched continued in his duty.

      That isn’t a guarantee. The man lost a very good chance of being saved from death because the dispatcher’s decision.

  4. I think reading about the situation that Quintero did not understand why the dispatcher was repeatedly asking about her friends respiration. It’s the dispatchers job to keep updated on a emergency situation. Quintero was panicking and anxiety can shift into anger very quickly. Hence, profanity was the way she expressed it. A dispatcher needs to be trained, probably through role play on how to deal with these reactions. Too bad the dispatcher lost their job. Probably other people would vouch for the dispatcher’s helpfulness in emergency situations.

    • It isn’t a shame that the dispatcher lost his job: he obviously isn’t trustworthy. How much training do you need to know that you don’t abandon your duty because of the language used by the person you are obligated to help? I was once in an emergency ward bleeding profusely from a primary male sexual characteristic, if you get my drift. The infuriating nurse at the desk was slooowly quizzing me on everything from my eye color to my shirt size while I stood there holding my crotch, and I finally said, rather loudly, “For Christ’s sake, lady, my dick is bleeding!!! Can you get me a damn doctor?” And she said..”We can do this later.”

      If she needed training to understand THAT, she would have been too dumb to work there, and all the training on earth wouldn’t change it.

      • I’m not gonna ask how it happened. And that nurse was either dumb as a post or has some major problems with her husband.

  5. I was recently in a situation where I told someone “don’t do that” or words to that effect, without bad language or a raised voice, only to be told I should have been more polite even though they agreed that my point was right – and even though terseness and brevity were essential to get the message across in time (before someone else’s left over food was served out again, despite having had a dirty fork through it).

    It’s just lucky that I didn’t get the same reaction a week before, when I said “don’t sit down” to someone. If that person had sat down anyway because he didn’t like my message’s style or content, he would have sat on a toddler who was enjoying himself scrambling right onto that seat.

  6. I have been working on a crisis line for going on twenty years now. I also do a training section (one of seven over a five week program) for new volunteers six times a year. My assessment of this situation is that the 9-1-1 operator is not at fault, and her lousy training only partially — the culpability lies with the personnel department that hired her in the first place, even if they were shorthanded. The entire call, or at least the part we read, shows ignorance and incompetence from the confusing negative sentence structure (“is he not breathing?” WHAT?? now there’s a brilliant way to elicit the clear yes or no called for in that situation!) to the lack of reassurance (some kind of help is on the way) or encouragement (you’re doing a good job) in between critical questions, to the final unconsciounable rejection of assistance. That kind of ineptitude isn’t disguiseable in a hiring interview because the attitude would be that of a selfish, impatient, inattentive, non-active-listening (I don’t know how else to put it) person to start with. And the training is probably little more than rote memorization fed back on a role-play or two.

    No. The attitude wanted on any kind of help line, emergency lines included, is evident before the individual ever goes on line: they want to stay longer, do more, listen harder, and that is what needs to be tempered until the person can balance the desire to help with the necessary information gathering and the timely giving of essential instructions. In a crisis situation (we get both kinds), they stay on line until the crisis is over, in this case until the dispatched help arrives. No matter what.

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