MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — After a WCCO-TV investigation exposed what 911 operators call dangerous staffing levels in Minneapolis, first responders are demanding answers.
On Monday at 10 p.m., WCCO-TV showed how some 911 calls in the city go unanswered for minutes at time. Operators blame a new cross-training program for all the confusion.
Now, the emergency responders who those operators are supposed to protect say they too have seen problems.
Lt. John Delmonico is the president of the Minneapolis Police Union.
“After seeing your story, I have grave concerns for the city of Minneapolis and for the police. It is concerning,” Delmonico said.
The presidents of the Minneapolis police and fire unions wanted to show a united front to say what’s happening inside the Emergency Communications Center might be making the work of first responders more dangerous.
Mark Lakosky is president of Local 82 of the Firefighters union.
“Definitely some long delays, some long pauses,” Lakosky said.
When a fire station gets its assignment, firefighters first hear a tone. Then, a 911 dispatcher says where the emergency is and what’s needed. For the last few months, however, Lakosky says several seconds often pass before that assignment comes.
Lakosky believes dispatchers are still in training and just aren’t clear what to do.
“That’s a problem. Like I said, time is not on our side,” Lakosky said.
In the past, operators and dispatchers have worked separate positions, but by 2017, the city wants everyone trained to work either job. Employees say that cross-training has created staffing holes.
WCCO-TV found that for hours at a time, the 911 center ran two people below its own staffing minimums.
Last year, on average, it took operators more than 10 seconds to answer a call.
When WCCO-TV asked Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges about what was found, she said in a statement: “The facts were manipulated to scare people about public safety. The story appears to be about sensationalism, rather than the truth.”
The unions don’t see it that way and are calling for change.
“I would hope that any city leader and every city leader, if they believe that one call, one 911 call goes unanswered that that is unacceptable, because to me it is,” Delmonico said.
The director of Minneapolis 911 said the demand-based staffing is working and she has no plans to change it. She also couldn’t talk specifics about the accusations that cross-training is creating problems because of a dispute between operators and dispatchers and their union that prevents her from doing so.
WCCO-TV asked the city’s police and fire chiefs about the investigation. In statements, they said they have full confidence in the 911 center and said it provides excellent service.