When seconds matter, emergency services are still minutes away, as the saying goes. But when a 911 call for help is routed to another county 125 miles away, an emergency can quickly become a disaster.
Cleveland resident Jeremy Ewing claims that when his house in Kirbywood Subdivision caught on fire around 3 a.m. Wednesday, his cell phone call to 911 was directed to emergency dispatchers in Austin County, located west of Waller and Harris counties.
Ewing said the diverted call delayed emergency responders in Liberty County by about 10 minutes. By the time Cleveland and Tarkington firefighters arrived 20 minutes after the fire was first reported, the house was fully engulfed. The structure has since been condemned by the city and will have to be bulldozed to the ground. Fortunately, Jeremy and Amelia Ewing have homeowner’s insurance, but the couple still has questions about why the 911 system let them down.
“Every other time I’ve called 911, it’s gone to the right spot,” Ewing said, explaining that he has reported drunk drivers to police in the past. “The one time I needed the system to work right for me, it didn’t. There are cell phone towers in this area and outside of town. They are right there. If I am connected to one of those towers, my call should have been routed to Liberty County.”
Ewing and his wife, Amelia, harbor no ill feelings for the firefighters, who they say tried heroically to save their home and possessions.
“When the fire started, I grabbed my dad’s flag,” said Amelia, explaining that it had draped her Marine father’s coffin after his death last year. “I laid it down outside when I had to grab the dogs and then couldn’t remember where I set it down. Those firemen were so awesome. They protected it. It didn’t have one drop of water on it.”
When called for comment, Cleveland Fire Chief Sean Anderson said he has heard about calls in Cleveland being diverted to the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office dispatch center, but he has never experienced a situation like this.
“I’ve never heard of a 911 call going that far,” the chief said. “This is a question for a cell phone company. It’s not so much a 911 system issue as it is a cell phone issue. With the home being in the city of Cleveland, the call should have gone to Cleveland Police Department or the sheriff’s office, not a county so far away.”