911 episode reaffirms chief’s suggestion

LISBON -Less than two weeks after the Homeworth fire chief recommended residents call them directly instead of using the Columbiana County 911 system, an incident occurred similar to the one that prompted his original suggestion.

It was on May 11, when a three-vehicle accident occurred on U.S. Route 62 in Knox Township. Fire Chief Brian Baker said a passing motorist called 911, but the call did not go to the county’s system.

Upon further checking, Baker determined the call first went to Stark County 911, which transferred it to Mahoning County 911, which then sent it to the Alliance Police Department before the call was routed to the Sebring Police Department, which dispatches for the Homeworth Fire Department.

Total time elapsed: 1 minute, 45 seconds.

Baker said a minute can be the difference between life and death or permanent brain damage when it comes to providing assistance for someone involved in a traffic accident.

“That’s almost two minutes,” he said of the time wasted rerouting the call. “Every extra minute counts.”

Baker raised the same point at the 911 advisory committee meeting on April 30, when he suggested residents bypass the system by calling them directly when the fire department is needed because of problems similar to what occurred on May 11.

“I question how much of a problem this really is,” he said, adding the Homeworth department receives about 70 calls per years and he estimated at least six of those calls get bounced around before arriving at the correct destination.

This is an estimate because they only hear by word of mouth when 911 calls go elsewhere than the county sheriff’s office, which is where 911 calls for the Homeworth area are supposed to go.

“That’s just what we hear about … It’s not like we ask how the calls come in, which leads me to believe it’s happening more than we’re hearing about,” Baker said.

County 911 Director Robert Emmons said before that calling 911 is still the best option because in the rare case the call goes outside the county it is always to another 911 system, saving time and providing the dispatcher with an automatic identity and location of the caller.

Emmons said the problem is 911 calls are at the mercy of the closest cell phone tower. “Cell phones don’t know what side of the road you’re own. It goes to the closest tower of the service provider.”

The geography involved in this particular accident may have played a role in how the call was routed. Route 62 runs east-west and is the dividing line between two counties, with north lane lying in Mahoning County and the accident occurring on the south side of the road.

Further complicating the situation is the fact the accident occurred less than a half mile from the Stark County line, and the 911 call was made from a convenience store right on the border of all three counties.

“We only have these types of complaints from one department and it’s Homeworth,” Emmons said, adding problems of this sort should be eliminated when the upgrade to Next Generation 911.

“He’s (Baker) certainly looking out for the best interest of the Homeworth Fire Department, and we’re working with him to address these issues,” he added.