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Human Error Blamed For Mishandled Emergency

September 5, 1986

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ A 911 dispatcher hung up on a deaf man trying to summon help for his dying wife because the operator didn’t recognize the electronic signal used by deaf people and assumed the calls were a prank, police said.

Jay Shufeldt dialed 911 twice on July 17 after his wife had trouble breathing. He used a phone equipped with a device called a TDD, which emits a certain tone to alert 911 dispatchers that the caller has a hearing problem.

Police Capt. George Malloy, who is in charge of the police communications division, said Wednesday the operator who answered Shufeldt’s calls should have recognized the tone and transferred the calls to the department’s TDD device to allow communication between Shufeldt and police.

The operator, whose name wasn’t released, was disciplined. Malloy declined to discuss the disciplinary action.

″What appears to have happened is that the operator called back with her voice and was unable to communicate with Mr. Shufeldt, who can communicate (over the phone) only with a TDD,″ said Shufeldt’s attorney, Gregg Relyea. ″It’s really a shame. The operator should have known to put it on a TDD.″

Shufeldt finally called his daughter and she called paramedics, but by the time they arrived, Shufeldt’s wife was dead.

Relyea said he was preparing a wrongful death claim against the city.

In light of the incident, Malloy said operators are being retrained in dealing with the deaf and learning to recognize the TDD signal.

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