‘Dangerous and unacceptable:’ DeKalb family put on hold with 911 for 41 min. while house burned

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — A family’s home caught fire, and when they called 911, they said it took nearly an hour to actually tell the dispatcher what was happening.

[DOWNLOAD: Free WSB-TV News app for alerts as news breaks]

The family said they were put on hold because the 911 center is short-staffed. A Fed Ex driver helped them out by driving to a nearby fire station and getting firefighters to follow him.

Channel 2′s Tyisha Fernandes was in DeKalb County Friday, where she spoke to Sherri Chance and her son, William Thompson.


The fire started in the garage, where the family’s washer-dryer are. They were drying clothes when flames started to shoot out.

Luckily, someone was home and called 911. They figured firefighters would get there quickly since the fire station is just two miles away.

Sherri Chance was at work on the afternoon of March 12 when he adult son got her attention on their Ring doorbell camera.

[SIGN UP: WSB-TV Daily Headlines Newsletter]

He told her their Lithonia home was on fire, and when he called 911, he said a dispatcher put him on hold.

That’s when Chance’s other son, William Thompson, drove back to the house and tried to help his brother save their mother’s home.

“We just started spraying the roof, trying to get everywhere that we see,” Thompson said. “(There was) a lot of smoke, so you know, we were still on the phone with 911 when that was happening, so we just kept trying to fight the fire.”

Chance left work too and called 911 herself. They put her on hold for 20 minutes.

“At that point, I leave Roswell and called 911 and asked them to transfer me to DeKalb,” Chance said. “What if an elderly person had called having a medical emergency? If you have to wait 10-15 minutes before you can even have someone answer the phone... it’s unacceptable.”

Surveillance video shows a Fed Ex truck pulled up in front of the house while all the commotion was going on. The drive decided to take matters into his own hands when he realized no one could reach a 911 dispatcher.

He drove to the closest fire station and got firefighters to follow him back to the home on Taffeta Court. They quickly put out the rest of the fire.

Chance called her county commissioner and she called the director of the 911 center and told her how upset she was.

She told Chance the 911 center was having staffing issues but they would have a class of around 20 students come out on April 1.

“I would like them to really do an active hiring campaign and just look at other individuals they might not tap into for those positions,” Chance said. “It is both dangerous and unacceptable for DeKalb County not to have resources to answer calls.”

Chance is thankful to the FedEx driver and to her sons and neighbors who helped. She’s since had to move out of the home because of the damage, but everyone is safe and most of her belongings are intact.

Comments on this article