The 911 call released last weekend is . . . hard to forget. It is the one where, as The New York Times reports, “The dispatcher, Donna Reneau, repeatedly told a sobbing Ms. [Debbie] Stevens to calm down.”
With a tone — condescending and worse.
As television station KATV informs, the 911 operator “was working her last shift after previously resigning,” when she “answered Stevens’ call for help” and “can be heard yelling at her.”
Delivering newspapers at 4 am in Fort Smith, Arkansas, Stevens was caught up in rapidly rising flood waters and washed off the road.
The water is “all the way up to my neck,” Stevens desperately told dispatcher Reneau. “I’m the only one in the vehicle with all of my papers floating around me. Please help me. I don’t want to die.”
“You’re not going to die,” the dispatcher replied. “I don’t know why you’re freaking out.”
“This will teach you next time,” she lectured, “don’t drive in the water.”
Indeed, Ms. Stevens will never again “drive in the water.”
In fact, she had not driven into the water, but drowned in the rising flood water that overtook her SUV nonetheless.
Following release of audio from the 911 call, the Ft. Smith police acknowledged that the dispatcher sounded “calloused and uncaring at times.”
Dispatcher Reneau’s behavior wasn’t criminal, however, says her supervisor. And having already quit, she cannot be fired.
Perhaps there is a lesson: More often than we know it folks don’t so much need a tongue-lashing or an eye-roll or a dismissive tone as much as they need some help.
Especially important if you work for 911.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.