Imagine calling 911 to report a medical emergency, literally a matter of life or death, and being told by a dispatcher that help is on the way, only to be told by fire and emergency services that they never received your call.
Port Ludlow resident Judy Oberto doesn’t have to imagine, because on April 25, she was the one who called 911 after 79-year-old David Mathis, the Bridgehaven Water District Manager at Port Ludlow, collapsed at around 6 p.m., near the end of the monthly community potluck.
While at least two men from the community began checking for signs of life and performing CPR, Oberto dialed 911 and had reached a dispatcher by 6:04 p.m.
When the dispatcher asked the nature of the emergency, Oberto told her, and when the dispatcher asked if anyone could perform CPR on Mathis, Oberto informed her of the two men already working on him, one a retired Navy Corpsman, the other a retired police officer.
“She asked me to stay on the phone with her, and not to hang up,” Oberto said. “She asked our location, and I gave her the address of the Bridgehaven Marina where all this was happening. I told her it was not a house, but a party pavilion at the marina.”
Although the two men performing CPR occasionally stopped after detecting a pulse, Oberto noted the pulse always went away again, leading them to resume CPR.
“That kept happening for a while,” Oberto said. “After one of those times, she asked if we still needed an aid car. I said, ‘Absolutely,’ and she told me she’d dispatched the aid car. She never asked me what county we were in, nor did she tell me where she was, or rather where my 911 call had gone to.”
Oberto estimates she remained on the line with the dispatcher between 10-15 minutes, before the dispatcher disconnected the call but advised Oberto to keep her phone with her, in case she needed to call back.
“Maybe 10 or 15 minutes later, we heard a siren and assumed it was on its way, but that was not the case,” Oberto said. “Some of our people had walked up the driveway, to hail down the aid car when it arrived, only it didn’t come until close to 7 p.m.”
Oberto and her husband remained with Mathis’ wife until it was determined that Mathis could not be revived.
“It was our understanding that a helicopter was even dispatched, once they got the message, but was told to go back once it was determined he was not going to survive,” Oberto said. “Many of us felt like, if our local Station 33 had been manned, and an aid car had been dispatched quickly, they may have been able to save his life.”
But what concerned Oberto and the community, as well as Port Ludlow Fire and Rescue and JeffCom 911, was that Oberto’s call apparently wasn’t answered by anyone within Jefferson County.
“We don’t know for sure where it went, but it obviously went out of our county,” Oberto said.
During a June 5 meeting at the Port Ludlow Fire and Rescue Station 33, JeffCom Director Karl Hatton informed Oberto and a garage full of other community members that he had no record of receiving a call at 6:04 p.m., nor did it appear to have gone out to any of Jefferson’s neighboring counties.
According to Hatton’s records, the first call they received regarding Mathis was 6:40 p.m. and 36 seconds, and an Advanced Life Support car was sent out at 6:40 p.m. and 49 seconds, with the first unit arriving on the scene at 6:54 p.m. and 15 seconds.
Hatton encouraged Oberto to contact her cell phone service provider to obtain her phone records for April 25, so that they could determine whom she had reached at 6:04 p.m.
“Cell phone technology is not that great,” Hatton said. “It used to be that 80% to 90% of 911 calls came from the home, but now, 80% to 90% of them come from cell phones.”
Because cell phone calls are routed through towers which provide approximate location information, Hatton pointed out that it’s routine for Kitsap and Clallam counties to receive 911 calls intended for JeffCom, and vice versa, but he added that their agencies have developed a routine for dealing with such circumstances, since they know that everything from the caller’s location to the day’s weather can affect which tower picks up their call.
“Once you obtain your phone records, please provide them to us, because it is a top concern for us where that call went,” Hatton said. “If we’re not receiving calls, that’s a problem.”
Oberto told The Leader after the meeting that she was “impressed” with Hatton, whom she found well-spoken and informative.
“At first, I felt like he didn’t believe that I made the 6:04 p.m. 911 call,” Oberto said. “But by the end of what he had to say, I was satisfied that he was speaking strictly from what they knew to be the facts. I appreciate that he gave me instructions on how to get the info on my 6:04 p.m. call from my phone carrier.”
When Oberto contacted her phone company, they agreed to send her a listing of every call, which should include the 911 call, with an approximate expected arrival date of June 12.
Oberto echoed the discontent expressed by fellow Port Ludlow residents Cliff Sindles and Tom Moore over the staffing of Station 33, however.
“That station was built with funds, specifically bonds, from our community, and I am quite certain it was a given that, if they built a fire station, it would be manned,” Oberto said. “Everyone here pays a hefty chunk of money in annual property taxes to support our fire station and the 911 service, but feel like we are not getting the service we have paid for.”
The fire personnel told the June 5 meeting’s attendees that the Oak Bay Road station has a priority for staffing because it serves a larger population, but Oberto said Station 33’s proximity to accident-prone Highway 104 has earned it some level of staffing.