9-1-1 Audio of Henry Laseke’s Call for Help: Did Northwest Central Dispatch Follow Protocol for Sinking Vehicle?

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Audio from 9-1-1 call when Henry Laseke called Northwest Central Dispatch System for help after he accidentally drove his SUV into a retention pond (includes video of driver’s attempts to save his life).

Northwest Central Dispatch System (NWCDS) 9-1-1 center has announced that it is conducting an inquiry into the operations of the 9-1-1 center during the response to a 9-1-1 call from Henry Laseke, age 89, who drowned in his SUV last Thursday morning about 7:00 a.m. after his SUV sank in a pond at Arlington at the Ponds — a condo/townhouse neighborhood just west of John Hersey High School. The Village of Arlington Heights is also conducting an internal investigation.

Calls to 9-1-1 from Henry Laseke and five neighbors were released earlier this week. The call from Henry Laseke is particularly disturbing because a protocol for sinking vehicles in water, which is available in the United States, was not used by the 9-1-1 center. The call is also disturbing because the 9-1-1 OPERATOR is fixed on obtaining a numeric address, and does not professionally and compassionately encourage the victim to gain confidence in the 9-1-1 operator. In fact, the harsh tone of the 9-1-1 operator may have made the situation worse.

9-1-1 TRANSCRIPT (Duration 1:10 — about the time it takes a vehicle to sink in water):

9-1-1 OPERATOR: 9-1-1, What’s the address of the emergency.

LASEKE: Help me, help me, quick. I live on the courtyard.

9-1-1 OPERATOR: [talking over Laseke] What’s the address of the emergency.

LASEKE: Arlington on the Ponds.

9-1-1 OPERATOR: What is your ADDRESS?!
(OPERATOR could have calmly said “Can you give me a numeric address?”)

9-1-1 OPERATOR: What is your address?


9-1-1 OPERATOR: What is the address?

LASEKE: 1538 Courtland, but I drove through, and I’m in the lake. [CALMLY] And hurry up, I’m sinking. Hurry up.

9-1-1 OPERATOR: Sir. Sir, I need you to calm down. 1538 Courtland Drive?

LASEKE: Yeah. I’m in the lake.

9-1-1 OPERATOR: Sir, Sir I know, I understand. Sir, calm down I’m getting you help.


9-1-1 OPERATOR: So you drove … car drove into the lake?
(Operator said she understands he’s in the lake, then asks if he drove in the lake)

LASEKE: Hurry up. … I’m in the lake.

9-1-1 OPERATOR: OK. Sir! Sir! Sir, I’m getting you help, OK?

LASEKE: OK (nervous chuckle).

9-1-1 OPERATOR: They’re on the way. Sir. They’re on the way for helping you.

LASEKE: Hurry up.

9-1-1 OPERATOR: Sir, they are on the way. Are you in the car?
[It takes over 58 seconds for operator to establish that he is in the car]

LASEKE: Yeah I’m in the car.

9-1-1 OPERATOR: OK. What kind of a car are you in?

LASEKE: I’m in a brand new Cadillac.

9-1-1 OPERATOR: You’re in a brand new Cadillac. OK. Alright.

A horrible performance by the 9-1-1 OPERATOR and Northwest Central Dispatch
#1) The 9-1-1 operators are forced to conform to a system that wants a numeric address, even though the Enhanced E911 Phase 2 system pulls up a map similar to a Google satellite map with a marker of the caller’s location as soon as the 9-1-1 call is received. The marker is often very accurate, but sometimes can be up to 300 meters off. Callers are frequently found in situations that don’t elicit a nice, clean numeric address. A sinking car in a condominium pond would be one of those situations. As soon as the 9-1-1 OPERATOR hears Laseke say “Arlington on the Ponds” and she verifies that the map marker shows the call in that geographic location, she should have confirmed that he was the victim in the sinking vehicle, and converted modes to help him escape from the vehicle.

#2) Henry Laseke is remarkably calm, especially for a man whose life is threatened while being trapped in an SUV sinking in water. However, he is sternly told to calm down while in a verbal beat down by the 9-1-1 OPERATOR. In talking over him, the OPERATOR fails to listen and comprehend the situation. By rudely talking over him, she also might have increased his anxiety and caused him to fail to act. Laseke is even heard with a nervous chuckle after the OPERATOR tells him that help is on the way. The OPERATOR is fixed on dominating the caller over contention about the numerical address. The lack of compassion and outright rudeness of her voice may have actually frightened Laseke and caused failure of the OPERATOR to gain the victim’s confidence in order to follow her instructions (instructions that actually were NOT even given).

#3) The 9-1-1 OPERATOR fails to follow EMD protocol (Emergency Medical Dispatch protocol) for a VEHICLE IN THE WATER THAT IS SINKING. The OPERATOR is fixed on the numerical address, and does not give the following instructions (common protocol for Vehicle in Water): “Open vehicle doors or windows, exit vehicle” or “if unable to wade to shore, exit vehicle and go to vehicle roof” or “Release your seatbelt and open the windows. If your windows will not open, try to break them. Hit the corner of the window with a key, seat belt buckle or metal headrest post. Exit through the window and get to the roof of the vehicle” or “If you are unable to open a window, there should be enough air for the minute or two that it will take to prepare to escape. When the car is nearly full of water, take a deep breath and push a door open, you may need to do this with your feet. Exhale slowly as you swim to the surface.”

#4) The situation shows lack of situational awareness by the 9-1-1 OPERATOR — probably caused by both the design of the 9-1-1 center and the poor performance of the 9-1-1 OPERATOR. Other callers had already informed the 9-1-1 center about the SUV in the pond. The OPERATOR apparently fails to interact with other OPERATORS to understand that vehicle location can likely be confirmed by other callers. If the OPERATOR talking to Laseke were aware of this, she would not have had to be so adamant about getting a numerical address from Laseke, and she should have switched mode to emergency instructions to help Laseke escape his vehicle before it sank.

#5) The OPERATOR wastes valuable time before confirming that Laseke is actually the victim inside the sinking vehicle, even though he clearly states that he is in a sinking vehicle. In her effort to dominate the conversation, she may have not even comprehended that Laseke was the actual victim in the sinking vehicle.

#6) The OPERATOR wastes valuable time asking what kind of vehicle the victim is in, and even wastes time confirming the vehicle information back to him. His vehicle is very likely the only vehicle in the pond. The type of vehicle is not a priority at this point of the conversation.

On their official website, NWCDS boasts having been awarded accreditation as an EMD Dispatch Center of Excellence.

“We are the the first center in Illinois and 139th in the world to earn this distinction.” If NWCDS is the first in Illinois and the 139th in the world to earn the distinction, we can presume that they have the latest edition of EMD, which includes the VEHICLE IN WATER protocol. And we can presume that staff have working conditions and training that promote the proper performance utilizing the VEHICLE IN WATER (SINKING) protocol.

Screen shot of a State of New Jersey EMD Guidecard (Version 01/12) for the VEHICLE IN WATER protocol that includes conditions that involve a sinking vehicle (See State of New Jersey Emergency Medical Dispatch Guidecards [PDF]).

From the 9-1-1 audio call with Laseke, there is no evidence of any adherence to the EMD protocol. It is particularly disturbing that the EMD instructions for a sinking vehicle in water were not given to Henry Laseke.

The inquiry needs to find out why the instructions were not given. Did a computer screen freeze, or fail to open the instructions? NWCDS has had numerous problems with their Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system, which was part of the reason for their vote of NO CONFIDENCE in management last year and no confidence in the CAD system that was installed last year at the 9-1-1 center.

If the EMD instructions failed to display on the OPERATOR’s computer, the inquiry needs to determine why the OPERATOR did not switch to printed cards that are also available at the 9-1-1 center in such an event.

The inquiry also needs to determine the amount of time elapsed from the CALL RECEIVED instant of the first call to the instant of CALL DISPATCHED. The Northwest Central Dispatch System has a cumbersome system that requires address information to be typed in the computer before calls are dispatched. At the vote of no confidence meeting last year, several OPERATORS said they could be disciplined and suspended if they dispatched a call before fully entering address information in the computer. Last year, numerous 911 operators reported that the computer displays freeze or crash or fail to perform as expected.

Northwest Central Dispatch System’s durations between call received time and call dispatched time are much longer compared to another dispatch center — RED Center in Northbrook. The time comparison is evident over the radio when comparing the time it takes when a fire officer requests an extra ambulance at the the scene of an incident, such as a crash. RED Center dispatches usually instantaneously, and only occasionally up to about 20 seconds after a fire officer calls for an extra ambulance. NWCDS takes up to 60 seconds or even 80 seconds to dispatch an extra ambulance after a fire officer requests an extra ambulance. A similar time delay occurs when Box Alarms for extra alarm fires are activated. RED Center is much quicker in getting out the box alarm, compared to Northwest Central Dispatch System.

Problems at Northwest Central Dispatch System are well documented over the past year. The CAD system has been riddled with errors that even failed to deliver an emergency medical call last year. The computers seriously delayed or failed to deliver the information from the call taker to the dispatcher. The CAD system was installed in April 2012, and has produced problems that make it very difficult for 9-1-1 operators, firefighters and police officers to work efficiently. Computers in squad cars have frequently shut down unexpectedly, take ridiculously long to update information, have failed to show beat cars available when they are available, have sent false calls to police and fire vehicles, have failed to send calls to the proper emergency vehicles, and have sent information to emergency vehicles in the wrong villages or cities. The problems with keeping information in order, have placed a tremendous mental load on 9-1-1 operators, police officers and firefighter/paramedics.

In April 2009, Northwest Central Dispatch System 9-1-1 operators performed with excellence while responding to a stabbings call that resulted in the deaths of Laura Engelhardt, 18, her father Alan Engelhardt, 57, and her maternal grandmother Marlene Gacek, 73, who all lived in the 1000 block of Bluebonnet Lane in Hoffman Estates. The 9-1-1 audio of that incident showed stellar performance of multi-tasking, situational awareness, and gaining a rapport with the victim calling for help.

Currently, the 9-1-1 OPERATORS are treated with cruelty and rigidity by their management with lack of attention to details of human factors/ergonomics and design at their workplace, and this unfortunate situation is then transferred to the patrons (citizen callers for help) using the 9-1-1 system. In this case of Henry Laseke, a man’s life may have ended unnecessarily, and during his last minutes of life, he was treated with rudeness and cruelty for failing to deliver a numerical address while in distress at a location that wasn’t near a numerical address.

See also …
The Cardinal Northwest Central Dispatch System 9-1-1 Dispatchers Vote No-Confidence in Management; CAD Failures Put Them at End of Rope

The Cardinal Complaints About ID Networks CAD Software at Northwest Central Dispatch 911 Raises Concern About Delays, Systemic Software Problems

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  1. Let’s not forget the several dive teams that were called from other towns. This man had minutes, maybe seconds to get out. What were they thinking???

  2. I heard this story break on WGN radio. They followed up one or two times saying the FD was on the scene. It was a long time! Close to an hour later they reported the man was gone. I knew something wasn’t right from the start.

  3. The last time I checked, the newspaper (print version or otherwise) is for reporting NEWS. It’s the Editorial Page that’s reserved for OPINIONS. The UNNAMED author of this article should reserve their opinion until all investigations are complete. For God’s sake, I learned that at my high school newspaper 30 years ago. While I extend my sympathies to Mr. Laseke’s family & friends I also feel for all the first responders to this tragedy, both in the 911 center (yes, they are first responders) as well as those at the scene: citizens and public servants alike. Somehow the author seems to have some firsthand knowledge of NWCD (from how poorly employees have been treated by management to how unreliable the equipment has been for the past year and a half) yet they seem to miss a crucial fact: while the dispatcher that they are so harshly criticizing may have been asking questions (some of which may sound ridiculous to the average listener but are required by their protocol) she is also typing that information into her computer and its likely being silently transmitted to another dispatcher who is giving that information out to the necessary personal. So during that 70 second phone call (which the author somehow knows to be the time for an Cadillac to “sink in water”) action was likely being taken to get this man help. And I’m guessing multiple calls were likely coming into center regarding the same tragedy.
    And as for “jeepguy’s” comments regarding dive teams from other towns my guess is that its likely standard procedure for any emergency regarding water that could result in a “rescue/recovery” mission to request mutual aid from other departments.
    So before anyone rushes to judgement please wait until all investigations are complete.

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