Lehigh County officials again refute claims in federal lawsuit over 911 call in fatal fire

Written by on October 29, 2021

Lehigh County officials again refute claims in federal lawsuit over 911 call in fatal fire

By Genesis Ortega

October 29, 2021

A federal lawsuit claims a Lehigh County 911 dispatcher hung up on a Spanish-speaking caller who was trapped in the basement of an Allentown house in a July 2020 fire. The man and a 14-year-old died in the blaze. (File photo | WLVR)

Lehigh County is pushing back on allegations that an incoming 911 call from a Spanish-speaking resident was mishandled and caused loss of life. 

Listen to the story.

At a recent Board of Commissioners meeting, Community and Economic Development Director Frank Kane spoke about it. 

“I’m going to be very careful about commenting on a federal lawsuit that was filed against us by a number of employees who were terminated from the 911 center. There’s a lot of misinformation,” he said, “normally you would never comment when you’ve been served a lawsuit. You’d just defend yourself in court.”

He refuted claims that a 911 dispatcher hung up on a Spanish speaker who was calling to report a fire. 

“From the first minute that our 911 center became aware of a fire, within 5 minutes, the fire department was there. Within 3 minutes, police were there,” he said. 

Two people lost their lives that night in 2020, including the person who called 911. 

Kane said he listened to the call, and the victim actually spoke English. A total of 63 dispatchers work in the call center. None of them are bilingual. 

“We want to try to hire bilingual people. We’ve tried. We want to try harder. But none of that had anything to do with this one particular case that made the paper,” he said. 

While the county plans to ramp up recruiting efforts next month for bilingual employees, Kane said the lawsuit and the allegations have been damaging to public perception. He hopes people know that the 911 center will respond to emergencies. 

“It’s very important that the community know that the people in our 911 center are working hard to answer their calls,” he said. 

The former dispatchers, who filed the lawsuit, were fired for drinking at midnight on New Year’s Eve while on duty. 

Lehigh County has not released the 911 call to the public. 

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