48 On Your Side: Madison County official blames staffing shortages for missed 911 calls

WAFF's Megan Plotka reporting
Published: Feb. 6, 2023 at 1:06 PM CST

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - WAFF 48 is on your side with answers as Madison County residents question why 911 calls have gone unanswered.

In three different emergencies, these residents say they called 911 multiple times and no one picked up.

“I felt alone really like my help wasn’t there,” south Huntsville resident Jennifer White said.

In July 2022, White says she visited her father-in-law when she was shocked to find him dead. She knew she had to call 911. The line rang for a long time so she hung up and called again. Still, no one picked up.

White even sent a message to their text line to no avail.

“It’s scary, I mean it was an emergency I needed somebody at that time and they weren’t there,” White said. “I had to call the non-emergency number just to have the police come out after I found out my father-in-law passed away.”

Unfortunately, she was faced with another emergency less than a month ago. White had a medical crisis, her husband thought she was having a heart attack or stroke. Joseph White called 911 twice and heard the same response, minutes of ringing.

After about 15 minutes, he received a text that read:

“Huntsville-Madison County 911: This is 9-1-1, a hang-up voice call was received from your phone number when we were experiencing a high volume of emergency calls. If your call was not accidental, and you still need police, fire or ems, please call us back on 9-1-1.”

“Emergencies in strokes and stuff time matters I didn’t have time to answer a text, respond to a text, wait for another text. I was trying to get somebody then and there,” Joseph White said.

The Whites are not alone in this. Toney resident Melanie Frazier says she needed the police one night in May 2022.

“There was a domestic dispute at my house with a gun involved and I tried to call them several times,” Frazier said.

She tried to call 911 seven times. When they did pick up, Frazier says officers took an hour and a half to arrive.

“What if the situation was worse and they were actually using a gun and I could’ve been dead and my kids would’ve just been sitting here not knowing what to do,” Frazier said.

Madison County Commissioner Steve Haraway says help is on the way. The 911 board member says there’s a staffing shortage right now. He says five people are going through dispatcher training as we speak but it’s not an easy job.

WAFF's Megan Plotka reporting

“What you get as far as a call right now you may get a call identical to it five minutes later,” Commissioner Haraway said. “It’s a very stressful call for that individual. You’re dealing with people who are in a terrible situation most times trying to deal with that back to back to back and they have to do that so it’s going to be someone who can handle that kind of pressure.”

He says they recently raised the minimum wage to $17 dollars an hour, but there are still job openings available. Commissioner Haraway says the board is looking at other ways to make this hard job a little bit easier for workers so there will be someone to answer your call.

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