911 Dispatcher Suspended After Deadly Fire

MOCANAQUA — The issue of whether the proper fire department was dispatched to a fire that turned out to be deadly in Luzerne County has two county dispatchers suspended without pay from their jobs.

The dispatchers put out the call last week for firefighters to respond to home in Mocanaqua.

There was chaos Thursday as crews battled a fire at the home on Main Street in Mocananqua. Crews put out the flames, but weren’t able to save the woman inside, Michelle Dzoch. Some wonder if she could have been saved had crews arrived earlier.

“Probably 10 minutes at least, it took me, and I did beat everybody here though. I did beat all the fire departments here,” said Syl Rutkoski,of Shickshinny.

Rutkoski owns B&S Distributors next door to the home. He says his son was at the store when the fire started. His son called 911 and then Syl, and Syl still beat fire crews to the scene.

“Especially with one being very close and the other one only across the river. I was a little shocked,” said Rutkoski.

Mocanaqua Volunteer Fire Chief Stephen McDaniels says once the county 911 Center put out the call, his crews arrived to the house in five minutes. He believes the delayed response was an issue with the county 911 Center.

“From what I understand, there was a fire department over towards the Hazleton way that was dispatched to an address in Conyngham Borough instead of Conyngham Township,” said Chief McDaniels.

Union officials tell Newswatch 16 two 911 dispatchers were suspended without pay and are awaiting a disciplinary hearing. County officials won’t comment because they say this is a personnel issue.

With the investigation underway, first responders and neighbors just wish someone could have gotten to the fire sooner.

“Maybe if somebody would have got there in the first couple minutes of it, maybe somebody could have prevented her from going back inside,” said McDaniels.

“When there’s houses on fire and people’s lives could be at stake, that’s not where mistakes should be made,” said Rukoski.

Officials are investigating exactly what happened on at the communication center on Thursday. No formal hearing date for the dispatchers has been set.

5 comments

  • Launa

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  • Bob Williams

    I’m not sure on the specifics of this incident, but I can say as a former 911 dispatcher that it definitely isn’t as easy as most people think. I’m assuming from the chief’s quote that Conyngham Borough and Conyngham Township are in separate areas of the county. This is a recipe for disaster already, because both the caller and the dispatcher can mistake one for the other, and it’s not like the fire department can just drive a mile down the road to get to the other location.
    Additionally, 911 callers often don’t know where they are. Even someone who has lived in their house their entire life can forget everything in an emergency. Compound that with a business that the caller may not know details about, then add a cell phone call (cell triangulation doesn’t always work), and it’s very easy to get the wrong location. Even landline information can be unreliable. Contrary to popular belief, dispatchers don’t have a crystal ball that tells them exactly where everyone is all the time. Taking difficult calls is an art.
    But like I said, I don’t know the specifics. Maybe the caller gave the right location and the dispatcher made a mistake. It happens. Yes, it’s an important job to make an mistake with, but when they’re only making $10/hr on average for that much stress and responsibility, you’ll get a high turnover rate which leads to lesser experienced dispatchers.

  • Franko

    You can’t blame the fire fighters – I am a volunteer firefighter —
    First of all, people don’t realize how our pager’s work in conjunction with 911 (and the same goes for scanners people have at home, there is still a broadcast delay especially that everything is digital) – If they are set for your fire tones only, then you will only hear the page for your fire company, if 911 got the address wrong on the computerized map system and they clicked the wrong town, then the firefighters in the correct tone never have their tones go off, so they have no idea. And even if your pager is set up to “listen” to all announcements, it only sets off your alert tones if 911 correctly clicks the right response button. They just don’t go off because there is a fire someone else. Also, I know people can be a little thick headed about this, but you know, if 911 sends the call out to the wrong town there is a possibility of more than one town having the same address, so no one is going to think anything unusual about it.
    Also, the public is not educated about how 911 works —
    When you call 911, after the report is given, the dispatcher maps out the area to click the proper response fire company’s based upon what the incident is. There is generally a 5 to 8 minute delay in all 911 centers in northeastern PA from the time the call comes in and the alert tones go off for the fire departments. If the fire department is a volunteer department, there is a 3 minute wait time from the first tones to see if someone responds. (So now you are up to 8 to 11 minutes wasted). This time gap of 3 minutes is because volunteer aren’t at the station 24/7, they are working people just like you, and the 3 minutes are built in to allow for someone to be able to respond back, and even then, they go nowhere until they get a crew assembled, you cannot go out on a call with just one person (simple logistics, you have one person to operate the truck but no one to go in with the hoses). Now if no one responds or a crew of at least 3 people is not assembled then a second request goes out after the first 3 minutes (so now it’s 5 to 8 minutes plus 3 minutes for the first tones now another 3 minute wait for response) and again, if there is no response by the second request, then a third request goes out 3 minutes later (so that is 5 to 8, pul 3 plus 3 plus 3) and after that last 3 minute wait another company from another area gets toned out. now depending on the nature of the fire, more than one fire company can get paged out the first time as a mutual aid. but even then, there is still that 5 to 8 minute delay from 911 itself before us fire fighters even know that there is a fire.
    Also someone commented that the firefighters thought there was something wrong — well there is this thing called bureaucracy and procedure – if the wrong station get’s paged out, the proper station can’t just pack up there truck and leave. Procedures state that an officer still has to radio into 911 and inform them that there is a problem and that they are going to respond anyway, and then 911 has to acknowledge. We live in stupid world that is run by procedures because of insurance and lawsuits. If you take your trucks out and have the lights and sirens on but you were not called out for the incident, and there is some form of an accident, then you were running your truck unauthorized and it is not officially on a call — all because of how 911 works.. You can only run lights and sirens if you are dispatched out. The only exception to the rule is for public events like parades.

  • Tim

    You really can’t blame the dispatchers. Firefighters sit next to their scanners 24-7. They should have known something was wrong with the call and have been on point themselves.

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