Man and teen nephew die in fire after 911 dispatcher hung up on them for not speaking English
The dispatcher not only hung up the phone but also did not use the translation services at their disposal
A man and his nephew, 14, died in a fire after a 911 dispatcher hung up on them because they did not speak English, a lawsuit has claimed. In fact, the dispatcher not only hung up the phone but also did not use the translation services at their disposal. The incident took place at Allentown, Pennsylvania. A Spanish-speaking man called Lehigh County’s 911 center desperately asking for help after his home caught fire. A federal lawsuit filed by seven of the center’s former employees this week says that the 911 dispatcher asked the man to communicate in English, and when he could not, they hung up.
In a lawsuit filed, ex-dispatchers said that they “complained to county supervisors that the 911 center was a hostile environment to callers who were minorities and were not fluent in the English language, especially Latinos/Hispanic callers”. Citing that these are violations of the former employees’ First and 14th Amendment rights, the ex-dispatchers named Lehigh County and several current and former county officials as defendants. The current and former county officials named as defendants in the lawsuit “improperly and unlawfully acted to impart unwarranted and unwelcome discipline to plaintiffs in retaliation for plaintiffs’ exercising their well established First Amendment rights of freedom of speech as citizens on matters of public concern,” their complaint alleges.
In the lawsuit, the ex-dispatchers claimed that their white co-workers often refused to communicate with Spanish-speaking people looking for help. Latino callers were allegedly forced to speak English, or they would be denied help. The compainants claimed that the dispatchers refused to use translation services and often did not help people in desperate situations.
Besides talking about the problem of racism, the lawsuit also says that the employees often faced backlash for speaking out. They pointed out how a supervisor who watched soap operas and sold nail polish on the job, and how another employee slept while “countless calls going unanswered.” The 911 dispatchers would also allegedly play cornhole during work hours, leading to “delays and missed emergency calls, including police calls, fire calls and calls involving life-threatening situations,” according to the lawsuit. The ex-dispatchers claimed that Allentown’s digital radio system was not functioning peoperly, leading to some 911 dispatchers not monitoring the “fire ground” channels. Local police and fire staff have also complained of “unnecessary delays in the dispatch of emergency calls.”