The Wichita Eagle
Nov. 30—The family of Paoly Bedeski, a 22-year-old woman killed in a Wichita apartment fire last month, is calling for changes in the way Sedgwick County 911 handles emergency calls after a series of failures by call takers and dispatchers "cost Paoly her life."
They're also calling for accountability.
The Sedgwick County Commission on Thursday announced they support an independent analysis of the entire emergency response but they're waiting for a recommendation from the Sedgwick County 911 Advisory Board.
"The Bedeski family is heartbroken and devastated over the loss of their beloved Paoly," the statement by the family's lawyer, Benjamin Winters of Patterson Legal Group, says.
It's the Bedeski family's first public statement since the Wichita Firefighters' Union gave a detailed presentation on Tuesday contending that 911 mishandled the fatal Oct. 13 apartment fire. The presentation revealed "obvious flaws and shortcomings in the operations of the 911 dispatch center in Sedgwick County," the family's statement says.
"The Bedeski family is reeling from the new knowledge of multiple errors that contributed to Paoly's untimely death," the statement says. "We now know that it was Paoly's 911 call that initiated the dispatch of firefighters to the Brookhollow Apartment building. Even though Paoly clearly and repeatedly told the dispatcher the apartment number where she lived and was trapped, that crucial, life-saving information was never given to the firefighters on the scene."
The statement points to two critical mistakes by Sedgwick County Emergency Communications that it says contributed to Bedeski's death: failure to notify firefighters that she was trapped in Apartment 306 and failure to sound a second alarm requested almost immediately by firefighters that would have triggered additional responders and firefighting resources. The second alarm was delayed more than 17 minutes, radio traffic shows.
"These failures cost Paoly her life," the Bedeski family's statement says.
"The Bedeskis are now calling for immediate correction of these systemic issues and accountability for those responsible, emphasizing the need for adequate protection for the county's residents."
Bedeski called 911 in the early morning hours and reported that her apartment was on fire. She told the operator the name of her apartment complex and provided her apartment number multiple times while pleading for help.
After 53 seconds, Bedeski became unresponsive and the call went silent, aside from buttons being pushed sporadically. The call-taker stayed on the line for 4 minutes and 54 seconds.
Wichita firefighters arrived on the scene of the apartment fire within seconds of the call ending. They're trained to complete a rescue in a third-floor apartment such as Bedeski's within 2 minutes and 30 seconds, if they know a victim is trapped in a specific location.
But Sedgwick County 911 did not relay Bedeski's information to firefighters. Fire Union President Ted Bush said he's confident the firefighters on the scene would have saved Bedeski's life if 911 would have told them where she was.
Elora Forshee, director of Sedgwick County Emergency Communications, said Tuesday that Bedeski's call "was not intelligibly heard or understood" by the dispatcher and "there was not any understanding or assumption that she was trapped."
The audio recording from Bedeski shows she was distressed and told the dispatcher her apartment number multiple times, repeating it back to him when he asked.
The Sedgwick County administration is still sorting through details and plans to take direction from the Sedgwick County Emergency Communications Advisory Board, Assistant County Manager Rusty Leeds said Wednesday afternoon.
One unanswered question is why the dispatcher did not replay Bedeski's call if he had trouble understanding her. Leeds said dispatchers can play back calls.
"They do have the ability to listen, to play back a call if they believe there's a reason they need to or they thought they missed something," Leeds told The Eagle. "There's the capability there. We'll get you a little more information on that as well."
Bedeski's family also pointed to delays in sounding a second alarm.
"We now know, as the County admitted publicly, that the firefighter's request for a second alarm and additional personnel to help at the scene was delayed for over 17 minutes because the dispatchers were not trained well enough on the computer aided dispatch system."
Forshee on Tuesday acknowledged the mistake in not issuing a timely second alarm.
"Our staff did make us aware of an issue regarding a delay in the full complement of a second alarm being sent," she said.
"That delay and the issues that contributed to it were identified during the event, and as I mentioned, reported to 911 administration — both being reported as identified and remedied," Forshee said. "They were discussed, they were trained, they were addressed on the spot. . . . We put out training for all shifts to ensure that this did not happen again."
Forshee said no one from 911 who handled the call has been disciplined.
"What the family is going through is terrible," Leeds said. "I can't imagine. Having it thrust into the limelight this week like it was has to be even more heartbreaking for them."
"But I think that there's conversations that still need to be had," he said. "I think the fire union is presenting their perceptions and their perspectives. . . . I think there's probably been communication issues, and there's things that they aren't aware of. And I think 911 administration and the fire service chiefs and the other members of that advisory board need to have a conversation about this and again, they need to give some guidance on what they see as needed next steps and we will take their their guidance, their advice."
What changes will come remain unknown.
"These conversations and steps will be thoughtful and thought-out and be intentional in what we do," said Nicole Gibbs, county spokesperson. "We don't want to rush the process. We want to make sure that everything is reviewed. We don't want to drag it out, but we don't want to rush it. We want to make sure it's done properly."
A Sedgwick County Commission news release on Thursday said the 911 advisory board will meet next week to work on recommendations for changes.
"Our focus and emphasis at this time is to hear from the 911 Advisory Board, which is made up of leadership from the first responder agencies that use our Emergency Communications system, and understand their recommendations moving forward," the County Commissioners' statement says. "It is our understanding they will meet in the next week to review this incident solely. Sedgwick County leadership supports an independent 3rd party comprehensive analysis that covers the initial call to 911 to the last fire personnel leaving the scene of this incident."
Contributing: Matthew Kelly of The Eagle
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