Emergency call operators – 911 dispatchers – are trained differently depending on the state or county they work for, but telling a caller to “deal with it yourself” and hanging up on her is not generally accepted protocol.
So when 17-year-old Esperanza Quintero called 911 after her friend Jaydon Chavez-Silver, also 17, was shot at a party and got the "deal with it" response from the Albuquerque, N.M. Fire Department dispatcher on the other end of the line, she was confused and upset.
Ms. Quintero told local news station KOAT she wished the dispatcher, Matthew Sanchez, had stayed on the line to help calm her down as she waited for emergency services to arrive, rather than hanging up when she got frustrated and used an expletive.
"Just a little, 'Hey I'm here, it's going to be OK, don't worry,'" she said. "Something little, instead of 'What are you doing, what are you doing, what are you doing, where are you at,' then click."
In the state of New Mexico, 911 dispatchers are required to successfully complete Public Safety Telecommunicator Certification through the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy. The certification program involves “132 hours of training within 12 units of instruction.”
Some of the units in the certification course include training in “rules for crisis listening” and ways dispatchers can manage their own stress in emergency situations. Trainees must also complete eight hours of simulated 911 call scenarios “while maintaining appropriate documentation and professionalism.”
Mr. Sanchez was reassigned when officials learned of the call, and he resigned from the fire department Tuesday, The Associated Press reported.
He had been working at the fire department for the last decade, and as a dispatcher for about three and a half years, a fire department spokesperson told NBC.
The fire department spokesperson told NBC an investigation was being conducted into the incident and officials were trying to determine if any other calls had been handled similarly.
Quintero said she was “frantic” and “scared,” and swore on the phone when Sanchez repeatedly asked her if Mr. Chavez-Silver was breathing.
On the recording of the call, obtained by the AP, after Sanchez asks Quintero for the second time if Chavez-Silver is breathing, Quintero says, "He is barely breathing, how many times do I have to (expletive) tell you?"
Sanchez responds, "OK, you know what ma'am? You can deal with it yourself. I am not going to deal with this, OK?"
He appears to hang up on her mid-sentence as she protests.
Several cases of 911 callers and dispatchers thinking on their feet during crises have made headlines over the past few years. In 2013, a Washington state dispatcher sent her own mother to help a stranded kayaker on the Columbia River when she realized her mother could get there faster than the sheriff’s office patrol boat.
This past May, a woman secretly alerted authorities to domestic violence in her home by pretending to order a pizza while really using a Pizza Hut app to send the message, “Please help. Get 911 to me.” The incident reminded people of a story reported on Reddit by a former police dispatcher, who once received a call from a woman who spoke as though she were ordering pizza, but answered “yes” when he asked her “Do you have an emergency?” causing him to realize she could not speak freely because her abuser was in the room.
Though officials say emergency services were dispatched before Sanchez hung up the phone, Chavez-Silver was pronounced dead at the hospital. Quintero told KOAT she did not know if it would have made a difference had Sanchez stayed on the phone with her longer.
Chavez-Silver’s mother, Nicole Chavez, told KOB-TV in a statement Monday she had heard the call, but was focused on finding whoever shot her son.
"We heard rumors about the 911 operator hanging up on the caller when Jaydon was shot but had no other information. After hearing the call today, it is heartbreaking to listen to,” she said. “Right now, we just want to find the people responsible for this violent, deadly crime.”