NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Homeless and helpless. That's what some North Nashville residents said they were after their trailer went up in flames. They said their ordeal was especially frustrating because they claim it took forever to get through to 911.
The first call was answered in less than 30 seconds. But it took longer for other calls to be answered, Metro officials said, because there were a couple of reasons why people could not get through. More people were calling in than usual on a Sunday afternoon. Metro was working another fire and several medical calls at the same time. And several callers from the fire scene hung up, perhaps unknowingly tying up the 911 lines.
The fire wiped out a trailer home at the Hawkins Trailer Park in North Nashville. No one was hurt.
"We've got each other. We got the baby and we've got each other, and we, well, we've got a pile of ashes. We got another day," said fire victim Mary Ellen Herring.
The victims are thankful to be alive, but critical of Metro's 911 system. They said that they and some of their neighbors called 911 but couldn't get an answer.
"All we heard was ringing. No one would answer the phone," said another woman.
"Everybody was saying, ‘We're trying to call them. We're trying to call,'" Herring said. "Why is 911 not answering an emergency call? That doesn't make sense to me; 911 is for emergencies."
A check of the logs at the Metro 911 center shows what happened.
"We're talking about eight minutes," said Metro 911 director Duane Phillips.
He said that's how long it took firefighters to arrive after the first call to 911. It was made at 4:19 p.m. and it was the first call made from the trailer park.
"We received the first call and it took, it did take us 23 seconds to answer that first 911 call at Swinging Bridge Road," Phillips said.
The goal at the dispatch center is to answer a call in 15 seconds, but officials said Sunday afternoon was busier than normal. Between 4-5 p.m., dispatchers received 51 calls and a half dozen from the fire were hang ups.
"If you call 911 don't hang up," Phillips said. "A lot of these people were calling. They were waiting a minute, hung up.
If you hang up it still ties up the line.
"We have to try to contact those victims, so we can't answer any more 911 calls until we start calling those people back to make sure they're okay," he said.
In many cases, domestic violence and home invasion calls to 911 involve people who are in trouble but have to hang up.
That's why dispatchers are required to call back before they move on to new calls. When you call 911 do not hang up. Stay on the line no matter how long it takes to get an answer. Firefighters are investigating the cause of the fire.