DeKalb County

‘Help is on the way.’ But it was too late – why neighbors say metro 911 system is taking too long

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Channel 2 Action News is investigating complaints of fire response delays in DeKalb County after two house fires in Brookhaven.

Some families told Channel 2 investigative reporter Sophia Choi that the 911 system is to blame.

The system works great when it involves police response, but when it comes to a fire some families say the system is a failure because their calls go to a middleman.

Danielle Blair called 911 for help as her house on Rennes Court in Brookhaven started to burn on Aug. 15.

“The whole house is covered up in smoke,” Blair told a 911 operator in calls obtained by Channel 2 Action News.

“Help is on the way,” the operated told Blair.

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By the time help got there, nearly $500,000 worth of damage was done to Blair’s home. Her home is now under a major renovation.

“There’s two fire departments within two to three miles of this house. So I assume they would be there a lot faster,” Blair told Choi.

The flames started in Blair’s pantry when her 8-year-old Parker tried to make a snack.

“Then I heard something in the pantry, and then I remembered my Eggo,” Parker said.

The waffle was on fire with flames quickly spreading!

That’s when Parker yelled out for big brother, 10-year-old Charlie.

“I hear (a clap), and I was like, ‘What was that?’ And then Parker starts screaming fire! I came in, the toaster had exploded like a bomb,” Charlie said. “It was one of the scariest things. Like, it was like your first loop de loop on a rollercoaster.”


Danielle heard the ruckus and immediately called 911.

People who live in Brookhaven are part of what’s called the Chattahoochee River 911 Authority, or Chatt Comm, sharing services with three other cities: Dunwoody, Johns Creek, and Sandy Springs.

Each city has its own police department and can share resources during an emergency.

But two of the cities, Brookhaven and Dunwoody, rely on DeKalb County for fire services, essentially making Chatt Comm the middleman during a fire emergency.

Neighbors say it’s taking too long to get help when seconds matter.

“Just being on the phone with 911 for as long as I was, knowing it had probably been four minutes, I was on the phone with them, and they hadn’t even dispatched yet. That I felt was too long,” Blair said.

A computer-aided dispatch report Channel 2 Action News obtained through an open records request shows the first fire truck dispatched four minutes after Blair dialed 911 at 5:26 p.m. Tuesday.

The first crews arrived about eight minutes later.

Chatt Comm’s executive director told Choi that once a call is transferred, it’s DeKalb’s 911 responsibility to dispatch firefighters in a timely manner.

The computer-aided dispatch system at Chatt Comm is tied to DeKalb’s, so information is simultaneously shared.

“There’s no delay, there’s no transferring of a phone call and the person having to tell their story a second time. It immediately goes into DeKalb County fire and EMS CAD,” said Maj. Dan Nable, ex-911 director.

Chatt Comm normally uses 12-14 operators a shift to handle thousands of calls a day.

“They’re here because they want to be here, and they want to help people,” 911 director Yolanda Chandler said.

The director said operators are trained to immediately transfer fire calls from Dunwoody and Brookhaven to DeKalb County, and the goal is to handle calls within a minute.

“The standard is to have that call completely processed within 60 seconds so that it can be entered into the system and we can get emergency services on the way as soon as possible,” Nable said.

Blair’s call lasted 2 minutes and 48 seconds. Just down the way from her house on Rennes Court was another recent house fire that happened on Jan. 14.

The incident detail report shows 911 dispatched the first fire truck, just three minutes into the call at 1:52 a.m. with the first crew arriving about 8 minutes later.

Blair said the fire around her neighbor’s grill spread to the house, causing a lot of damage.

Now, she and her neighbors want a change.

“Direct line and direct 911 to fire,” Blair said. “There’s a lot of pieces, and it just feels like it could be streamlined to be much more efficient.”

Danielle couldn’t say enough about her neighbors who jumped in and helped until firefighters got to her home.

The industry standard for 911 centers is to answer calls within 20 seconds.

Chatt Comm said it beats that, answering calls within 10 seconds, cutting down on any delays.