PEI

P.E.I. couple want changes after 911 call unanswered

An Eastern P.E.I. couple isfrustrated — and relieved things didn’t turn out much worse — after they say multiple calls to 911 went unanswered.

'If I'd been lying there having a heart attack, what would have happened in the long run?'

Ronald Johnson is recovering with a cast on his leg at his home near Murray River. He and his wife had to get to the hospital on their own after they couldn't get through to 911. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

An Eastern P.E.I. couple is frustrated and relieved things didn't turn out much worse — after they say multiple calls to 911 went unanswered.

A week and a half ago, Ronald Johnston was loading a mower onto a ramp on Peters Road near Murray River when the ramp collapsed. He fell and thought for certain he'd broken his leg.

He lay on the ground while his wife, Cora, called 911.

Cora Johnston said she tried three times to reach 911 when her husband fell and hurt his leg. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

She said when she called the first time, it just rang and rang. So she hung up, and tried again.

The second time, she says she got a recording telling her to wait on the line. So she did wait for a couple of minutes, she said, then got impatient, hung up, and tried again, only to get the same message.

At that point, they managed with some difficulty to get Ronald into their van and to get him to the Kings County Hospital. From there, an ambulance took him to the QEH in Charlottetown.

The first time you call 911, you should have an answer. It could be life and death.- Cora Johnston

P.E.I.'s 911 co-ordinator Pat Kelly investigated the incident and said according to records, there were actually only two calls from the Johnstons. He said a 911 operator did answer the first call, but that it appears Cora Johnston hung up just as it was answered.

The second call did go through to a recording because all the agents were busy at that time, he said. But he stressed incidents like that are rare, and that 99 per cent of calls are answered within 18 seconds, which meets public safety standards.

This, he said, was just a rare case of bad timing.

"If we get an influx of 911 calls all at the same time, we're unable to answer every call that might come in at that time," he said.

Pat Kelly, the provincial 911 co-ordinator, said 99 per cent of calls are answred within 18 seconds. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

"The number of call takers we have are based on the call stats we get annually. We review that, if we needed to increase the staff, we would. But at present, in most cases, we have enough staff to be able to handle all the calls that come in."

That is little consolation to Ronald Johnston, now back home recovering with a cast on his leg. He thinks hiring extra people is better than losing a life.

"If I'd been lying there having a heart attack, what would have happened in the long run?" he said.

With files from Steve Bruce

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