The strange response to a 911-call made from Hwy 2 is an “anomaly” that could have resulted from the call being bounced to a call-centre in Sudbury, Ont.
That’s just one of several possibilities laid out by Chris Kearns, acting chief for Red Deer Emergency Services, in relation to the bizarre response to a 911-call placed by a Lacombe resident on Monday.
Krysta Fornataro recounted to the Advocate calling 911 after seeing a burning vehicle on the shoulder of Hwy 2between Ponoka and Wetaskiwin. She described being twice put on hold with loud clicks that made her wonder if she was disconnected, and repeatedly questioned in English and French about which town or city she was calling from.
Fornataro questioned whether this could be due to the centralization of ambulance service dispatch in the province. But Alberta Health Services stated this is not possible as the call did not proceed to the point where it had to be routed to a centralized ambulance dispatcher.
After seeing an approaching emergency vehicle, Fornataro had discontinued her 911 call after three or four minutes of frustration, as someone had obviously alerted 911 earlier.
Kearns said on Thursday that Red Deer fire dispatchers had received several calls about the flaming vehicle on Monday — as had fire dispatchers in Yellowhead County.
Both had sent fire trucks to the scene of the fire that resulted in no injuries.
According to Chris Bourdeau, a spokesperson for Alberta Health, the health department did not have anything to do with Fornataro’s 911 problem because the call was cut off before any ambulance involvement.
Bourdeau said Alberta Municipal Affairs staffs 20 call centres around the province that initially respond to all 911 calls. These operators then route the calls to appropriate dispatch centres after determining whether they are for fire, ambulance or police.
(The City of Red Deer still handles fire dispatching, but now local ambulance dispatching is handled by Alberta Health Services since centralization happened in January.)
Kearns said any number of things could have happened when Fornataro called.
If her vehicle had built-in, enabled Wi-Fi and her phone also had Wi-Fi, he said its possible that the 911 call was bounced out of Alberta to the Northern 911 call centre in Sudbury, Ont.
Some smaller phone providers, which are obligated to provide 911 service, contract with this call centre, he added.
“There’s a possibility it did not go to either one of the (Alberta) call centres, and I suspect it did not.”
But there’s also a chance that it “pinged” from a cell tower in Maskwacis First Nation, which does not have 911 service, and got routed to a Telus operator.
In any case, it’s likely an “anomaly,” said Kearns. “We don’t have those types of situations happening frequently.”
Charlotte Taillon, spokesperson for Alberta Municipal Affairs, said, “We are aware of this incident and are investigating how this specific call was handled.”
According to Alberta 911 Standards, 95 per cent of 911 calls must be answered within 15 seconds. Of the 1.33 million 911 calls made in Alberta in 2020, 98.9 per cent were answered within this time period, she added.