County manager feels call center acted in timely manner after witnesses claim late response to home explosion

Published: Oct. 26, 2021 at 4:43 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 26, 2021 at 5:09 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - An internal investigation is underway at Chatham County’s 911 call center.

Community members in the Pin Point community say 911 wasn’t picking up their calls as multiple people tried to report a home explosion and fire.

The Chatham County manager says an internal investigation will happen but he also thinks the 911 center staff did what they were supposed to do.

If you asked any of the community members here Monday that witnessed the devastating effects of this explosion and fire, they certainly wouldn’t agree.

“All I know is I called 911, I didn’t get no response. Two times, I called them two times,” said Bradley Wingster, cousin of the home owner.

Family members and neighbors say their early-morning 911 calls to report the home explosion and fire, didn’t get a response. The county operates the emergency call center and told us from 6:59 a.m. to 7:14 a.m. Monday, they received 60 calls about three different incidents - two highway crashes and this house. They say that number of calls can cause issues.

“If we do not pick up which is possible, if we’re in one of those peak times we may not,” said Chatham County Manager Lee Smith.

Those calls weren’t just from people who live in the Pin Point community. We talked to a man who was driving by and saw smoke. He says his 911 call also wasn’t picked up.

“As soon as I saw it I called 911, stayed on the line with constant ringing for five, five or so minutes plus. And then the call back number came through, it was just an automated response to which if this is an emergency press one, I pressed one, it rang for two or three more minutes and then I just hang up.”

The county manager says the call center currently has 14 job openings and that number is actually an improvement from the 20 openings they had in August. Monday morning, community members claimed to have been calling before 6 a.m., but say they didn’t get a response until 7 a.m. The county manager claims calls came in around 7 a.m. and the entire time period is being reviewed.

“We have a Q.A. program, you know quality assurance, they’re going through those and making sure first of all that our people did the job that they are supposed to do, but it appears it was just before 7 and multiple after 7.”

Despite that internal investigation, Smith says he thinks the 911 center crew did well.

“I do feel like all emergency services and telecommunicators did what they were supposed to do and in a timely manner.”

WTOC has also independently requested the call logs from the 911 center and we have not yet gotten them.

Chatham Emergency Services Chief Chuck Kearns has maintained that his team received the first call from dispatch at 7:08 a.m. and that his team cannot comment on calls received or not received at the 911 center.

Below is a statement on the Oct. 25 fire from CES:

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