Ottawa

911 operator breaks down at inquest into caller's death

The 911 operator who first took a call from a Casselman, Ont., woman dying of an asthma attack four years ago broke down and apologized to her family at a coroner's inquest in Ottawa Monday.

Kathryn Missen was suffering a severe asthma attack when she called for help in 2014

Doug Sanders was a 911 operator and supervisor at the OPP's provincial command centre in North Bay, Ont., when he answered the call from Kathryn Missen on Sept. 1, 2014.

The 911 operator who first took a call from a Casselman, Ont., woman dying of an asthma attack four years ago broke down and apologized to her family at a coroner's inquest in Ottawa Monday.  

Kathryn MIssen, 54, was home alone when she went into medical distress and called 911. She was found dead two days later after neighbours became concerned.  

An inquest is trying to determine whether the fragmented system of handling 911 calls contributed to Missen's death.  

Missen's call underwent a series of transfers and delays before finally reaching the OPP communications centre in Smiths Falls, Ont., then the OPP detachment in Russell, Ont., where an officer forgot to go to Missen's home to check on her.   

Kathryn Missen loved photography and singing in her church choir, according to her sister. (supplied )

'It seems completely crazy'

"To me it seems completely crazy," said Missen's daughter, Harriet Clunie, 33, who's attending the inquest. "It just seems a bit too complicated."  

Doug Sanders, who was supervisor of the provincial communications centre in North Bay at the time, took Missen's call, which had been routed there.

In a recording of the call played at the inquest Monday, Missen can be heard saying, "I need a ..." before she begins gasping, moaning and pushing her phone's buttons.

Sanders asked the called whether she needed firefighters, police or an ambulance.  

"I hear somebody in distress. A lady is gasping for air trying to say something," Sanders testified. "I asked her if she needed the police, but at the time I couldn't tell exactly what it was [she needed].

"I couldn't make out what she was saying. I couldn't tell if she was in distress or why she couldn't tell me."

'It couldn't have been worse'

The OPP's policy when their operators can't decipher the nature of the emergency is to transfer the call to police for assistance.

"If I didn't follow the policy it might have been worse," Sanders said. 

"It couldn't have been worse," Prabhu Rajan, an assistant Crown attorney acting as counsel to the coroner, shot back. "Kathryn Missen isn't here today."

I never want this to happen to anyone ever again.- Doug Sanders, 911 call taker

At one point in his testimony Sanders, who now trains 911 operators for the OPP, lowered his head and broke down. 

"I don't make excuses," he said, turning to look directly at Missen's family members. 

"I never want this to happen to anyone ever again," he said. "I apologize for what you've been put through this last four years. If I can make it better for future call takers, I will."

Afterward, Brenda Missen, Kathryn's sister, said the family was deeply affected by Sanders's testimony.

"It was really difficult to hear Mr. Sanders but we really appreciate that he was very forthcoming in what he experienced and what he would do differently next time" she said. "It was very emotional."

The inquest is scheduled to hear testimony until November 2nd.