Dangling upside down in a car in the North Okanagan, and no answer from 911 | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Dangling upside down in a car in the North Okanagan, and no answer from 911

Payton Kineshanko and Abby Simpson frantically called 911 while trapped in their rolled over vehicle on July 17, 2018, but there was no answer.
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August 02, 2018 - 6:30 PM

VERNON - Dangling upside down in the passenger seat of a friends vehicle, in a state of shock and panic after it rolled over, Payton Kineshanko grabbed her phone and called 911 for help.

But no one answered.

"We kept trying, over and over," Kineshanko said. "It would ring and say there are not enough operators."

It was like the call was going to voicemail, she said.

A passing vehicle stopped and managed to get Kineshanko and driver Abby Simpson out of the vehicle. The rescuers called 911 too, but had no luck getting through. Calls were made to Kineshanko and Simpson's parents, who also then called 911, but struggled to get an operator.

Luckily Kineshanko, 18, and the 17-year-old driver Abby Simpson were unhurt following the single-vehicle accident that saw their vehicle flip onto its roof east of Lumby on Highway 6 in the early evening of July 17. The accident does, however, shine a worrying light on the reliability of the 911 service.

When almost anyone in B.C. calls 911 their call is received by the E-Comm call centre in Vancouver. The call is then transferred to the relevant police, fire department or B.C. Emergency Health Services.

E-Comm spokesperson Jasmine Bradley did confirm in an emailed statement Kineshanko's call was made at 7:44 p.m. July 17, but says according to Telus's records the call disconnected after 10 seconds and never reached E-comm's 911 centre.

The email also confirms Simpson's call was placed at 7:42 p.m. and disconnected at 7:47 p.m. Bradley said once the call came through to the 911 centre the Simpson would have heard a message saying all operators were busy but not to hang up as the call would be answered in sequence.

Both Kineshanko and Simpson say they each called 911 multiple times.

"I just kept pressing redial," Simpson said.

The evening of July 17 saw plenty of lightning that started multiple forest fires around the region and Bradley confirmed that from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. E-comm saw a 465 per cent increase in 911 calls compared to a typical Tuesday night.

E-Comm said they couldn't give a specific answer as to why so many people couldn't get through to 911 that evening without knowing individual phone numbers but did say that "given the heavy call volume... it's safe to presume they experienced the same issues as the other callers due to congestion on the 911 network preventing calls from being delivered to our centre right away."

E-Comm went on to say "during those rare periods of extremely high call volume like the night of July 17, callers will hear a recorded announcement asking them not to hang up and stay on the line for the next available call taker."

Bradley says the 911 system is not designed to handle extreme call loads.

"The system is designed for everyday emergencies and not during those major events where mass calls will flood the system," Bradley said. "That's the reality for 911 systems around the world."

Bradley said it's important people only dial 911 if a life is at stake or people need immediate assistance from a first responder. Bradley said the situation has been made worse now everyone has a cell phone, whereas 20 years ago if there was a car crash 911 would receive one call from a landline.

Abby's mother, Natalie Simpson, said she was on hold for 15 minutes and while waiting, drove to the Lumby ambulance station to ask for an ambulance as she thought it would be quicker.

"In my eyes, you are never ever on hold with 911. I've never heard of anyone (put on hold)," Simpson said.

Kineshanko's mother Sherry Kineshanko was also shocked at not being able to get through to 911.

"Multiple people shouldn't not be able to get through to 911 when there is an emergency," Kineshanko said. "There's something wrong and it needs to be fixed before somebody's not as lucky as we were."

Vernon interim fire chief Dave Lind said even a large house fire can cause multiple 911 calls and the department only has one person answering calls at their dispatch centre.

"It's not an ideal situation," Lind said. "It really doesn't matter how robust your system is, you're always going to experience an event that can challenge the resources available," he said.

He said the dispatch department is currently in the process of being transferred to Kelowna where there are more resources and 911 calls for Vernon will be answered there by mid-October.

An ambulance did arrive at the crash scene around 30 minutes after it happened. Kineshanko and Simpson weren't taken to hospital but checked over by the paramedics and released that evening.

They both say how lucky they were the accident wasn't more serious.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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