Sandy residents demand answers regarding slow emergency response times

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SANDY, Utah -- A Sandy home was completely destroyed by fire just weeks ago, and some residents in the area think the slow response time is to blame.

Those residents attended a community council meeting in Sandy Wednesday night, hoping for some answers.

The big question at the meeting was ”why?” Why the response time was so slow, why the closest departments weren't the first on scene, and why there was so much confusion from the dispatch centers.

Some residents living near the fire-damaged home on Quail Ridge Road said they don't feel safe in their neighborhood and that they are not confident with the dispatch systems if they were in an emergency and needed help.

Those residents recounted what happened as they remember it when their neighbor's house went up in flames. They grilled the fire chiefs with both Sandy Fire Department and Unified Fire Authority about where the calls made to 911 went, when their crews were dispatched, how long it took them to arrive on scene, and ultimately what can be done to make sure that there is better communication in the future so no one else has to lose their home or their lives when they don't have to.

Explanations at Wednesday's meeting ranged from confusion over addresses, confusion over which dispatch centers the calls to 911 were being sent to, and inefficiency among the two dispatch centers.

Resident John Howard said he called 911 and asked, "Where is the fire department? We've been waiting here for 10 minutes, where is it?"

Howard said the dispatcher replied, "Don't get so upset because this is the first we've heard about it."

Sandy Fire Chief Bruce Kline explains, "There are some areas in this valley that you're going to have that long of a response because stations are... we can't build stations on every corner."

Battalion Chief Jeffery Johnson of the Unified Fire Authority adds, "There were 18 or 19 calls that came in, there were 18 different addresses given, took them a little bit before they got the exact address and that plays a little bit of a role."

David Evans is the owner of the home destroyed. He questioned the response: "People driving by looking could drive right to it, why can't people who are trained and professional do that? And I don't think it's the people, it's the system."

According to a dispatch center manager, it was 14 minutes from the time of the first 911 calls to when UFA firefighters arrived on scene, and 12 minutes for Sandy fire crews.

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams has set aside about $1.3 million to get both the Salt Lake City Dispatch and Valley Emergency Communications Center on the same platform.

3 comments

  • Bob

    For police assistance response time is defined as the time between a caller contacts 911 and the police arrive to put up crime tape and take photos of the dead body. What part of response time is it so hard for some people to understand?

  • Tony

    People really need to stop blaming things on others. the dispatchers can only put out the information they receive. That info has to be correct. also you people don’t have any idea what other emergencies that were happening at the same time that made possible closer fire crews to respond. Just fyi a police dispatcher is in no way a normal phone operator. So don’t go and blame them just because your up set!!!! i am very sorry for your lose i wish things like this never would happen.

  • Taterhead

    There were other issues at play as well, some political. My friends tell me Sandy’s dispatch is in Salt Lake City rather than VECC, but the address is actually covered by Unified Fire…. different dispatch centers thanks to mayor Dolan. The mayor has know about this potential for over a year and hasn’t done anything to correct it. The cell tower is in Sandy, so the call went to SLC instead of Sandy’s previous 911 center at VECC.
    Sandy FD went to the first caller’s address, hooked up their hoses, and the homeowner said “not MY house, it’s the house behind mine!” There happens to be a gully between the yards. So Sandy FD had to disconnect from the hydrant, pick up their hoses, and drive around the block, which probably blew another three or four minutes before the firefight could begin. In the meantime SLC dispatch then called VECC to have UFA respond, and their arrival was about 14 minutes after that first call to 911.
    And I bet the homeowner wishes his address was clearer, so those 18 callers/passers-by would’ve all had an accurate address to give to 911. There’s plenty of responsibility for this problem. The finger pointers should start at the top.

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