Channel 11 investigation: Emergency responders sent to right address, wrong county



PITTSBURGH - A call for help in Vandergrift nearly ends in tragedy when emergency crews are dispatched to the wrong county.

"It was the worst day of my life," recalled Audrey Headley of the day her son, Kaiden, fell out of a window in their home.

"Like, I was in shock. I didn't really know what happened," she said. "Like, 'How did he get outside?' And I saw the window."

Kaiden pushed out the screen and fell 20 feet out of his bedroom window.

His mom whipped out her cellphone and called 911.

"It took about 20, 30 minutes before anything, and I asked where they were, and they said they were outside of my house, and I was standing on the porch, and they weren't here," said Headley.

First responders thought they were at the Headley's Lincoln Avenue home, but they were on Lincoln Avenue in the wrong county.

The Headleys live in Westmoreland, but their 911 call went to the dispatch center in Armstrong.

"We're not unique. This can happen anywhere at any time," said Dan Stevens, the public information officer for Westmoreland County 911.

He says this happens frequently when calls get made near the county borders.

If someone calls 911 with a landline phone, it goes directly to the local 911 center.

But with a cellphone, the call gets bounced to the cell tower it can most easily find.

"It might go to the least path of resistance to get to a cell site that might not even be in the county that you're at," he explained.

The Cellular Telephone Industry Association says about 30 percent of U.S. homes only have cellphones, and almost 400,000 wireless 911 calls are made every day.

The National Emergency Number Association explains that these calls "may not be routed to the most appropriate 911 center. This presents life-threatening problems due to lost response time."

The Headleys lived that nightmare.

Thankfully, Kaiden doesn't have permanent injuries, but his parents now have a constant fear.

"You shouldn't have to worry about if the ambulance is going to get here or if your call is going to the right place," said Keith Headley, Kaiden's father. "You shouldn't have to worry about it."

There is a nationwide initiative called Next Gen 911, and it's aimed at updating the 911 infrastructure to work seamlessly with wireless society. But it's expected to take years to implement.