Man Dies After 911 Call Is Seen as Butt Dial

Robert Paulus' family is criticizing Fredericksburg's protocol
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 13, 2016 4:03 AM CDT
Man Dies After 911 Call Is Seen as Butt Dial
Robert Paulus tried to place a 911 call.   (Shutterstock)

The call lasted less than 20 seconds: After the Virginia dispatcher answered "Fredericksburg 911, where's your emergency?" she was greeted with silence, which she followed with "hello?" twice. Then she hung up, thinking it was one of the dozen butt dials or otherwise inadvertent calls the city gets each day, reports the Free Lance-Star. It wasn't, but rather was a dying man's call for help, and now his family is railing against the city's protocol. On April 23, 56-year-old Robert Paulus, who had heart disease, called 911 from his iPhone. The Free Lance-Star's copy of the recording suggests he made a few barely audible sounds toward the end of the call.

Per the city's emergency dispatch policy, the dispatcher may end the call if he or she cannot raise the caller. A return call is made and police are sent if the caller hangs up, but a callback isn't required in the case of the reverse. WJLA notes that protocol is specific to the call center, with the nearby Fairfax County's call center obligated to place that return call. Paulus' body was found two days later after coworkers were concerned he didn't come to work; his family later discovered the record of the call on his phone. The city says it's "reviewing protocol" and will make the changes needed to prevent such a situation in the future. Paulus' stepdaughter tells the paper, “The hardest part for us is that he was alone. That was the heartbreaking part.” (Read about another 911 call gone wrong.)

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