by Gary Axelbank
September 9 , 2019
Friday evening at 5:55pm I was wending my way through traffic on the Hutchinson River Parkway, driving to Queens across the Whitestone Bridge. About a half-mile before the foot of the bridge I saw glass and metal strewn across the road, the sign of a fresh accident. Sure enough a few yards ahead it was apparent two cars had just collided. A white one was in the right lane, with somewhat dazed people standing next to their car. Two lanes to the left – I was in the lane between them – was a smaller maroon-colored car with some people standing.
As I rode slowly through the debris I could see two people clearly leaning into the back seat of the car, seemingly to assist someone who might be hurt or even trapped.
Now past the scene, I immediately picked up my phone and dialed 911. I explained to the operator what I had seen and she asked a number of details, like make and models of the cars, how many people were hurt, etc. I explained to her that I really don’t have a lot of details, but I’m merely a motorist who was passing by and I was concerned that someone was hurt so I thought it would be good to call 911.
She asked a few more details, most of which i did not have. and had me repeat the exact location. I explained twice more that it was about a half or quarter mile heading to the Whitestone bridge from the Bronx and at this point, “I’m already maybe a mile past the spot, anyway.”
She thanked me and said, ”Please hold for the FDNY.”
I wasn’t sure why I needed to speak to anyone further because I had given her all of the limited information I had, but I did wait until an FDNY dispatcher picked up.
Now I assumed that the when the 911 operator took down all the info, much like if you call tech, cell phone, or bank support, the text of that report would immediately follow me to the next department. Wrong.
“FDNY, how can I help you?”
With traffic heavy, I was a captive audience and so I proceeded to explain to the FDNY dispatcher the exact same story that I had just told the 911 operator. Incredibly he asked me many of the exact same details that I had not been able to explain a few minutes ago. He seemed to have difficulty trying to figure out exactly where the accident was. I described it to him and he said, “OK, so you were going westbound.”
I thought for a minute and said, “Actually sir, if I’m going across the Whitestone from the Bronx I’m pretty sure that’s eastbound.” (Note: I thought about it later and while it is the way to eventually go east, it’s actually southbound.)
Eventually he said he understood and at this point, especially since I was already two miles from the spot, I figured I had completed my civic duty. Wrong.
”Thank you sir, please hold for EMS.”
“Hey, why do we need to do that? I gotta tell you, I’ve already explained twice all I know – which is not a lot – I’m just trying to be a good citizen, here.”
“Sir, they will dispatch an ambulance.”
So I get transferred to an EMS operator. “EMS, how can I help you?”
Again I’m assuming that the info I’ve now given twice has been transferred to EMS. Wrong.
She asks me in detail about what I’ve now explained twice and as we go through it, she wants the same particulars that I didn’t have twice before. Now I’m getting impatient. I look at the phone call time on my dashboard and it’s up near eight minutes.
“Ma’am, I’ve now been on the phone for eight minutes, I’ve explained this twice and I don’t really have much information anyway.”
“Sir, we need these details if we’re going to send assistance.”
As I was reaching my destination in Queens, I finally got off the phone. I looked at the total time of the call, 8:23. I had spoken to 911, FDNY, and EMS, and gave the same story – with limited details – three times. With it all, they each certainly had enough information about where the highway accident happened and that there was concern that someone was injured.
I hope if someone did get hurt they received timely emergency medical care and that in the future none of us has a serious accident that needs fast attention from emergency services.
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