It was a parent’s worst nightmare – on June 23 around 4:45 p.m., Malcolm Elavia’s eight-week-old daughter wasn’t breathing.
The Elavias, who have six children under the age of eight, wanted immediate help, so they did what they thought was the best thing – call 911.
Despite their Kings Down subdivision home being only 10 minutes from a fire station, it took more than 14 minutes for a fire truck to arrive at the house, and 15 more minutes for the paramedics. The responding unit came from a station located at I-85 and North Druid Hills.
“It was a scary moment when I realized that she wasn’t breathing,” Elavia said. “I thought about driving her myself, but I was afraid that she would stop breathing while I was driving. My wife couldn’t go with us because someone had to be at home with the other children.”
The conversation with the 911 dispatcher seemed doomed from the start, he said.
“I had to give them the address three times and the phone number twice, and meanwhile my daughter is stopping and starting breathing,” he said. “Then for 13 minutes, the dispatcher kept saying that the ambulance should be there any second.”
After a few minutes, when Elavia told the dispatcher that his daughter had again stopped breathing, he was informed that the call was “elevated,” and that it would now be seven to eight minutes before help would arrive.
“At that point I just lost it,” he said. “Had I been told the truth, I would have taken her to the hospital myself.”
Adding fuel to the fire was the discovery about the location of the responding unit.
“Who dispatches an emergency call to a unit that has to drive through rush hour traffic, instead of the station that’s right down the street?’ he said. “It’s all so ridiculous.”
Even though Elavia’s daughter recovered without incident, thanks to excellent care by the responding units, her father said he will never trust the 911 system again for any emergency.
“To say I’m disappointed, mad and nervous about using ever using 911 again is an understatement,” he said. “I could have walked to Urgent Care in half of the time.”
Dunwoody’s mayor said the city is investigating the incident.
“I was incredibly sorry to hear about the most recent incident, and we’re still investigating the specifics. We take concerns about EMS response in Dunwoody very seriously,” said Dunwoody Mayor Lynn Deutsch. “EMS response times improved through the winter of 2019 and up until the pandemic began. But we face additional challenges now. Communities across the state are struggling with response times and staffing shortages – both in emergency services and within hospitals. Georgia has a complex system that regulates ambulances, so I’m working with the Georgia Municipal Association on potential legislative solutions.”
Deutsch added that members of the city council and staff are also working with DeKalb County “to address longstanding concerns.”
The city contracts out its 911 service to Chattahoochee 911 Authority, also known as ChatComm. According to the city’s website, the company “is a state-of-the art, accredited E911 center which answers 911 calls for the cities of Dunwoody, Sandy Springs, Johns Creek and Brookhaven. The City of Dunwoody’s Intergovernmental Agreement with ChatComm establishes performance standards which require ChatComm to answer all 911 calls within 10 seconds (or less) and process 90% of calls for dispatch in 60 seconds (or less).”
The controversy regarding 911 service has been circulating as long as Dunwoody has been a city. Residents have complained about being subject to long hold times before calls are answered, being transferred to different agencies during the calls, and experiencing slow response times once personnel are dispatched.
Deutsch said one initiative, called “First on the Scene Model of Care” may help to alleviate some of these issues.
The model, according to DeKalb County, is “a dual emergency response system that prioritizes providing immediate lifesaving care. This fully integrated system is designed to ensure that properly trained personnel and equipment are on the scene as soon as possible. DeKalb County Fire Rescue units are a critical component of this care as all firefighters are certified EMTs or paramedics who can perform the equivalent level of care as the responding ambulance.”
Elavia, for his part, has developed a website, 911responsetime.org, “to add visibility and awareness of spectacular response times and subpar response times.”
“There shouldn’t have to be a near tragedy before this kind of issue is taken seriously,” he said.