Greene County man lodges complaint about 911 response

GREENE COUNTY, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- George Doeppe was home alone in Greene County on April 26 when he sensed something was wrong.

"I was sitting in a chair watching TV, and I noticed my arm was getting numb," said the 74-year-old who lives in Fredericksburg but has had a weekend home in Greene for 30 years.

His foot also went numb, and Doeppe realized he was having a stroke.

He knew getting help wouldn’t be easy. His house is on Barrow Lane, a steep and rutted dirt road that is only accessible by four-wheel drive. But Doeppe's son lives at the bottom of that road, so Doeppe called him for help.

"He came right up and at that time, I couldn't speak very well, so he literally carried me out to the car in the driveway," Doeppe said.

Doeppe’s son first called the Greene County Rescue Squad directly to ask for an ambulance, but that request was denied.

"They told him to hang up and call 911," Doeppe said.

Greene County Rescue Squad Chief Jack McKeen says the rescue squad doesn’t dispatch ambulances that way because of liability concerns.

Since the property is near the Madison County line, and Doeppe's son was using a cell phone, the call to 911 went to the wrong county.

"He got Madison,” Doeppe said. “Madison said they couldn't transfer him, that he'd have to call the sheriff's department."

Doeppe's son made that third call, and according to 911 records, Madison also contacted Greene. An ambulance was dispatched within three minutes of the first call. But Doeppe says it was more than 30 minutes before the ambulance arrived.

“The people in the rescue squad did everything they could once they got here. I have no fault with them,” Doeppe said. “It just seemed like to me, 30-some minutes was a little long."

Greene County Commonwealth's Attorney Matthew Hardin calls Doeppe's experience concerning.

"What we see here is that something that should have been simple, dispatching an ambulance to someone who has had a stroke, ended up resulting in three phone calls instead of one," said Hardin.

But Greene County Sheriff Steve Smith, whose office oversees the 911 call center, says an investigation into Doeppe's call found no problem since Madison County notified his office quickly, both counties followed proper procedure, and the location of the call was so remote.

"Response times can be slowed up somewhat depending on the terrain of the roads and where they have to go,” Smith said. “But in this specific case, the response time was, I think, excellent."

He also said a new technology called Next Gen 911 will ensure emergency calls from cell phones are routed to the correct 911 call center in the future. He expects that technology to be implemented in Greene County in two years.

However, Hardin thinks the county should use Doeppe's experience as a lesson until that happens.

"Law enforcement, 911 and our Greene County Rescue Squad needs to get together and figure out exactly what happened and how we can improve our dispatch procedures," Hardin said.

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