Kids Calling 911
May 9, 2006 (WLS) -- Parents need to teach their children now how to react in an emergency to make sure they are taken seriously if they ever have to call for help.
The 911 tapes from a case last February in Detroit show just how calls for help from children can be mistaken for pranks. ABC7 talked to the emergency experts in Chicago and the suburbs to see how they handle calls from kids and get their advice on what parents should tell their children in case of an emergency.
A 5-year-old boy in Detroit called 911 for help for his mother who has collapsed.
Boy: "My mom has passed out ... she is not going to talk."
Dispatcher: "You shouldn't be playing on the phone. Now put her on the phone before I send the police over there."
The boy's mother died before help finally arrives.
The response was much different at the communications center in far north suburban Gurnee when an 11-year-old girl called 911. Natalie Kinzalow's mother was driving on the Tri-State Tollway last June when she became ill and stopped on the median.
Dispatcher: "911, what is your emergency?"
Natalie: "My mother is having a heart attack and she's having some trouble breathing."
Dispatcher: "Can you tell me where you are?"
Natalie: "We were heading for Chicago-Glenview, 94."
"All I heard was questions and I was giving answers and I didn't know how that would help. I felt like I was taking a quiz or a test," said Natalie.
Dispatcher: "Is she breathing now?"
Natalie: "Yes, she is breathing slowly though."
"I believe if it wasn't for her going and pulling through I definitely would have fainted and passed out even more and God knows what else would have happened," said Betti Kinzalow.
Dispatcher: "Is she breathing normally?"
Natalie: "She is in pain right now. Please. She is breathing normally. She is in much pain, please come."
"Natalie gets an A-plus, because she stayed calm, and you could hear through the call at times where she got a little excited, but she was able to calm down," said Jim Richardson, the 911 dispatcher who answered Natalie's call.
Doctors determined that Betti Kinzalow's illness stemmed from dehydration and stress.
Jim Richardson is a supervisor at the Gurnee communications center with 15 years experience. He says 911 dispatchers are trained to treat every call as the "real thing."
"Children are always taken seriously, you have to. People are calling us because they are having the worst day of their lives," said Richardson.
Natalie Kinzalow's call was the "real thing," but some children do make prank calls to 911. Chicago's Office of Emergency Management and Communications and Chicago's Public Schools are doing something about it. Chicago school children are shown a five-minute OEMC video called "Make the Right Call. Its aim is to deter youngsters from making prank calls to 911.
"Please use your mind. Don't cry wolf if the wolf ain't there," the video says.
The video warns that emergencies could go unanswered because of prank calls. It tells youngsters that prank calls could result in a $1,000 fine and prosecution.
"We ask the kids to make a vow, a commitment, that they will not call the 911 Center for the purpose of misusing the telephone system," said Andrew Velasquez, Emergency Management and Communications.
Experts say parents should train their children how to call 911 for emergencies. Children should know their telephone number and their address and they should be able to explain the nature of the emergency.
"Children in crisis for some reason seem to do a very fine job of listening to and following instructions and doing what they need to do to help out," said Richardson.
A lawsuit has been filed against two Detroit police dispatchers who refused to send help for Robert Turner's dying mother. The family is asking for more than a million dollars.
Chicago's 911 Center reports crank calls have declined 20 percent since its "Make the Right Call" campaign began last year.
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