MAY 30, 2021
YOUNGSTOWN — A 911 call early May 20 from a cellphone at Earl Minotti’s burning home at 2008 Lansdowne Blvd. in Youngstown went to a cellphone tower at the Liberty Township Police Department — 3.4 miles away — and to the Trumbull County 911 Center.
The resulting ping-pong of calls — from the phone to the tower and between dispatching centers in two counties with different phone companies — meant it took about six minutes for city firefighters to arrive, and the house was damaged extensively.
Minotti’s buddy, Corby Crissman, made the call after waking up around 4 a.m. to a fire on the third floor of the 1920s-era home. Crissman assumed the call had gone to the Youngstown 911 center, which then would send out Youngstown firefighters from a station not far away.
But because the Lansdowne address is in Youngstown and not in Trumbull County, the 911 call taker did not get the kind of high-tech mapping information that a 911 call taker usually gets, Rodger Laird, Trumbull County 911 Center operations manager, said.
His computer didn’t tell him the location from which Crissman was calling. Crissman told the call taker he was at Lansdowne Boulevard in Youngstown.
Trumbull’s computer system indicated it was a “Youngstown” call, but gave the location of the caller as the Liberty Police Department. Trumbull County does not have a digital mapping system for Youngstown, so the call’s location was “like a blank screen,” Laird said.
Trumbull 911 takes calls from people with Youngstown addresses all the time. In most cases, those calls actually are coming from Liberty Township in Trumbull County because much of Liberty has Youngstown mailing addresses, so operators have to ask the caller several questions to ensure that the person really means Youngstown.
Those questions to Crissman eventually caused the operator to call Youngstown to transfer the call there, Laird said.
Laird did not estimate how much longer it took to get Youngstown firefighters to Minotti’s home that morning because of the call first going to Trumbull County.
“This was a challenging call because it wasn’t supposed to come to us and … we have to really scramble, really work to get the call to the proper location,” he said.
Laird did not offer any ideas on anything that could have been done differently to speed up response to the fire.
The Trumbull call taker took information from Crissman and then called Youngstown’s 911 center about 1 minute and 15 seconds into the call to transfer it there.
The day of the fire, which destroyed the third floor of the home and caused an estimated $25,000 in damage, Minotti expressed frustration that it took about six minutes for firefighters to arrive. He estimated that the call going to Trumbull County slowed response by several minutes.
Capt. Kevin Mercer of the Youngstown Police Department, who became the supervisor over the Youngstown 911 Center the previous Monday, said Minotti had a reason to be upset and promised to look into the incident and see if anything can be done to prevent it from happening in the future.
But Laird offered no such reassurance.
Laird, a 25-year veteran of Trumbull 911, said from talking to a representative from T-Mobile, which owns the cell tower involved, he learned, “The calls don’t always go to the closest tower. (The T-Mobile representative) said terrain, all kinds of things, play a part in where these cellphone calls go.”
Laird said he believes a Youngstown tower probably was closer than the one in Liberty that could have received the call. “For some reason, I can’t even fathom a guess why, it went clear up to Liberty,” Laird said.
Most of the time, a cellphone call to 911 goes to the right 911 center, but Trumbull County shares a border with Mercer County, and calls from Sharon and Farrell, Pa., sometimes hit the cell tower on West Hill in Brookfield and come to the Trumbull 911 center, he said.
Although a cellphone call is supposed to “hit the closest tower,” it does not always do that, Laird said. Errant calls from Youngstown do not happen a lot, Laird said.
NO SMOOTH TRANSFER
Another complication when Trumbull 911 transfers a call to the Youngstown 911 center is that they don’t use the same phone company. Trumbull uses CenturyLink, and Youngstown uses AT&T.
It means that a smooth transfer of the call from Trumbull 911 to Youngstown cannot happen. Instead, Trumbull 911 must call a 10-digit phone number for Youngstown 911 and verbally tell the Youngstown dispatcher everything he or she needs to know. In this case, the Trumbull 911 call taker and 911 caller remained on the line with Youngstown until firefighters were close to the scene.
None of the data attached to Crissman’s call — such as the latitude and longitude of his call — went directly into the Youngstown 911 system’s computer system, Laird said.
“We cannot transfer from our 911 line to their 911 line. When (Youngstown) picks up the call, they have no clue where this call is coming from when they answer it,” Laird said.
And in this case, because the Trumbull 911 call taker isn’t sure where the cellphone caller physically is located, he could have trouble providing accurate information to Youngstown, Laird said. He noted that it works the other way as well: When Youngstown transfers a call to Trumbull, Trumbull only gets the verbal information.
No one was injured in the fire, but Minotti lost a great deal of memorabilia that was in the attic and said he had no homeowner’s insurance.
A Youngstown Fire Department report indicated the home had “extensive fire damage to the third floor, including burning through the roof in several spots” and “extensive water damage to all floors.”
The fire department turned off the power to the house and advised Minotti not to turn it back on until repairs were made.
The fire report listed “electrical failure, malfunction, other” as contributing to the cause of the fire.