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  • Writer's pictureTed Bush, President Local 135

Apartment 306: Wichita's Needless Fatality Fire October 13, 2023

Currently, 80-85% of all fire emergency related 911 calls received at Sedgwick County Emergency Communications originate within the City of Wichita. Public safety is expensive, and while we may disagree about what level public safety should be funded, it is incontestable that the City of Wichita does invest taxpayer dollars in fire and police protection. In order for the citizens (and visitors) to access those critical services they must first go through Sedgwick County Emergency Communications by dialing 911.


According to our calculations, citizens of Wichita, through the various taxes levied on them, provide the vast majority of the funding that is needed to provide the 911 and dispatching services provided by Sedgwick County Emergency Communications. Despite this fact, citizens of Wichita and those who represent the citizens of Wichita have zero operational control nor the ultimate final say in the service product offered by Sedgwick County Emergency Communications.


In June of 2023, Wichita Firefighters at IAFF Local 135 raised concerns about the operation of Sedgwick County 911.

We received several concerns from firefighters who, multiple times a day, are on the receiving end of critical errors. Errors such as delays in dispatching emergency calls, incorrect call types being used, incorrect units being dispatched, and failures to warn firefighters of safety concerns are just some of the critical errors Wichita Firefighters deal with on a daily basis.


Examples of 911 calls that gave us concerns were posted on our Facebook page to make citizens aware of our concerns. News reports were aired, reporting on our concerns and other deficiencies:




These errors are of grave concern as they negatively affect the ability of firefighters to do their job and increase the risk responding firefighters face. But most importantly errors such as these, along with 911 answer times that often fall significantly short of recognized industry standards and threaten the safety of the citizens. There simply is not an alternative number to call if you have an emergency and are in need of accessing emergency services.


Sedgwick County representatives conducted a press conference giving different justifications for the claims made by Local 135.

Sheriff Jeff Easter, the current President of the 911 advisory board in this press conference stated our claims were misinformation and erroneous, although you can hear in the press conference that they also confirmed the two examples given.

The only discrepancy was the wait time while in the que for a power line down call. The citizen advised on scene that it was 5 minutes, 911 communications claimed it was not. Although they do admit to a 2 ½ minute wait to answer a 911 call -- which is vastly outside the minimum standards set by Sedgwick County 911.


Sheriff Easter also claimed in the press conference the “fire union” stated that citizens should be very afraid, and that people are going to die because of this new CAD system. Although this is not what was claimed, we did raise concerns over the lack of transparency in the operation and configuration of the new CAD system.


Wichita Firefighters are and continue to be concerned about the lack of leadership and overall mismanagement of Sedgwick County Emergency Communications. We are concerned about the lack of funding, the lack of staffing, the low pay granted to 911 workers and especially the lack of opportunity for proper, standards-based training and continuing education.


Five months after Sheriff Easter made those comments, those very real concerns remained. Leadership and management did not changed. Training and accountability did not changed, and errors continued to be made, affecting the safety of firefighters and citizens alike.

That brings us to October 13th, 2023. 3:58 am, Brookhollow Apartments at Central and Rock Road. A call comes into 911 about an apartment fire.

The very first call was not calling to just report an apartment building on fire.

The caller is Paoly Bedeski and she's calling because she's trapped in her third-floor apartment. Her only means of escape was blocked by flames. Fire is entering her apartment as the window begins to fail and thick, choking, black smoke fills the air.

The call was entered into the system as an apartment fire and after 53 seconds of questioning the caller goes silent, now barely conscious, and no longer able to talk.

Paoly Bedeski's last words before going silent were "Help me please".

The effects of the smoke are simply too powerful for even the most willing to overcome.


The line remained open for another 3.5 minutes, the only sound heard was the occasional sound of buttons being pressed on her phone, perhaps in a last-ditch effort to summon help. During that terrifying 53 seconds she showed remarkable bravery by her ability compose herself and clearly state what the name of the apartment complex and her apartment number.


Incredibly, none of this information ever made it to the responding firefighters. Just as incredibly, she wasn’t the only person who called 911 from within the burning apartment building. The third call to 911 came from the occupant of apartment 304. Struggling to breath and with the smoke alarm sounding in the background, the female caller was also able to give her address and her apartment number and just like her neighbor above, this call went silent as well. Unbeknownst to the dispatcher at the time, this caller and her roommate jumped from their second-floor window. Unbelievably, this information too wasn’t relayed to firefighters until several minutes into the incident.

14 seconds after her call disconnected, Wichita Firefighters were on scene, unaware that Paoly was trapped in Apartment 306 with precious little time.

Another occupant from inside tried to call 911 that night but because of the limited staffing at Emergency Communications, no call takers were on duty. The only ones available to answer 911 calls were the radio dispatchers. Dispatchers working WPD, EMS, Sheriff Patrol and The Fire Department all took calls while at the same time managing existing calls on the radio. This caller stated she was unable to get through to anyone. Fearing for her life, she called her friend, who in turn called 911 on her behalf. This information was also significantly delayed in reaching firefighters.


Miraculously, a total of seven occupants from the other apartments were able to escape. Two jumped from the third floor, two from the second, one ran through a wall of fire and two were aided out. Of those injured, all are expected to make a full recovery.


There are two distinctive call types for a structure fire of this kind. One is a structure fire, and the other is a structure fire with persons trapped. This information completely changes the operational actions of responding units. Operational actions that rescuers particularly train on in which one must pass proficiency testing. Meaning, having specific, detailed information about the location(s) of trapped occupants would have allowed an immediate rescue to be pinpointed and started.


It must be noted that the only information suggesting the possibility of trapped persons was entered as a single text line on the computer 58 seconds after units arrived on scene. This information was not marked as critical nor was there any verbal communication over the radio advising that a dispatcher had a woman on the phone, trapped in apartment 306 and desperately needing rescue.

At 4:02 am, three minutes and thirty-six seconds after being dispatched, Wichita Fire Engine 15 arrives on scene and immediately calls for a second alarm. This request should promptly bring more units to the scene

and was done so due to the heavy fire conditions present and the overall complexity of the situation. Time is critical. Second’s literally count. This is true for all emergency services but especially true for situations like this.


A second unit arrives on scene, Squad 15 at 4:03. Again, the request for a second alarm is repeated and acknowledged by dispatchers as it was written into the narrative of the incident log.


At 4:03 an EMS dispatcher enters into their computer, “call went silent from the original caller.” This was 28 seconds after both units from station 15 arrived on scene. This entry was entered into the narrative of the incident log in the CAD computer. Nowhere in this entry was information regarding apartment 306 and more importantly this information was never transmitted over the radios to firefighters.


At 4:10 am, in the midst of fighting a large amount of fire and several rescues being conducted, another life-threatening event on scene occurs.

The stairs and a portion of the roof over the stairwell collapse, trapping firefighters. A mayday is declared over the radio for four firefighters.

Because of the limited resources on scene (the second alarm still had not been transmitted) firefighters had to be redirected from other time-sensitive, critical tasks in order to rescue the trapped firefighters.


At 4:12 am, due to the extreme difficulty and complexity of the fire on scene, a dedicated dispatcher was requested to monitor the radio channel that fire crews were operating. This request was immediately followed by an inquiry by a fire supervisor asking about what units were assigned to the second alarm, a request that had been made ten minutes prior. The response from the dispatcher came as a shock to those who heard it. “The new CAD system doesn’t do second alarms…I’ll have to ask my supervisor.” The fire supervisor, understanding the seriousness of the situation, responded by stating that they needed to step it up as a mayday by firefighters was called and they were still dealing with an active fire.


At 4:20 am, the EMS dispatcher (not the fire dispatcher), for reasons unknown to us, finally dispatched the second alarm

17 minutes and 18 seconds after the original request. A delay, so shamefully significant that many, after the fact, have questioned the legitimacy of this claim, conceding only after seeing or hearing the evidence themselves.

This additional alarm brought two additional engine companies (Engine 5 and Engine 20), one additional truck company (Truck 2) one additional squad (Squad 5), and the remaining on-duty WFD Battalion Chief (Battalion 4). It appears that this was completed manually as a work around attempt to “balance” out the second alarm. For Wichita Fire Department the current configuration in the Computer Aided Dispatch for a second alarm is to dispatch the full assignment regardless of the numbers, types, and kinds of resources currently.


Once all firefighters were accounted for, tactical operations resumed. The two rescue companies who had been assigned to help in removing the trapped firefighters were assigned to complete the searches that had been underway at the time of the collapse.


At 4:24 am, the sole remaining occupant, the first person to get through to 911 was located by firefighters. Paoli Bedeski is found in her bathtub with her phone beside her.

She was unconscious, not breathing and did not have a pulse. Firefighters and paramedics immediately went to work, trying desperately to save the young woman’s life.

Despite valiant efforts from firefighters and paramedics, the young occupant of apartment 306, Paoly Bedeski -- the first one to get through to 911 and the last one to be removed, succumbed to her injuries.

Paoly was pronounced dead in the emergency room shortly after being rushed there by Sedgwick County EMS.

A photo of Paoly Bedeski in bright colors with a huge smile, dancing happily
Paoly Bedeski

In fires, tragedy, unfortunately happens. It’s the nature of a fire. But in this particular case, this alarm has emotionally scarred many of the firefighters on scene. Not for what they did, but what they could have done had the information been promptly and correctly relayed to crews on scene.

The ultimate goal in any fire is to save lives. That is it. That is the bottom line.

In this fire, it’s what should have happened and could have happened.


Sheriff Easter, in his effort to circle the wagons to protect upper management and their decisions, spoke at a press conference earlier this summer, where he said, “no one was going to die,” claiming that Wichita Firefighters were fear mongering and spreading misinformation.


I've personally had several conversations with Fire Chief Snow discussing the concerns of firefighters working closely with Sedgwick County Emergency Communications. She, and county leadership, has full knowledge of past and current problems and knowledge about this specific fire. Neither appear willing to even admit that improvements have been needed within the center for a long time. Improvements necessary to help ensure the citizens are able to promptly access emergency services, and to ensure firefighters and other emergency responders have the correct and prompt information necessary to make split second decisions at the most critical moments.


The lack of these improvements and the failure to realize and appreciate the importance of a properly funded, properly staffed, properly trained and equipped 911 and dispatch center has now cost a young woman her life. And yet, no one has done a thing. This tragedy appears to have been hidden from the public. Unacknowledged by county leaders perhaps in hopes it simply goes away.

In an effort to ensure the best possible service and safety to the citizens and firefighters, Wichita Firefighters call on the Sedgwick County Board of County Commissioners to approve a full and transparent investigation, using an independent, third-party, into this tragedy.
We call for a third-party investigation and assessment of all operations at Sedgwick County Emergency Communications, including their quality assurance/quality improvement and training programs, which are vital parts of such an incredibly important arm of public safety.
We call for the Sedgwick County Commission and the County Manager to immediately designate Sedgwick County dispatchers as emergency responders, providing them the same level of legitimacy as law enforcement officers, firefighters, and EMS providers in the state, in the spirit of the 911 First Responders Act and later added as an amendment to Senate Bill 40 signed by Governor Kelly. A legitimacy they have long deserved that brings with it an insistence that things are done right.
We call for the immediate removal of Sedgwick County Emergency Communications director Elora Forshee as well as others any investigations reveal, as necessary.

Wichita Firefighters believe that emergency dispatch is the tip of the spear of an emergency. We understand and value the importance of such a vital service to our community. People enter these professions because they want to help others. It's a disrespect to not give them the tools, training and staff to do so. Outcomes like this stay with all of us - from dispatchers to emergency room nurses.


As citizens, you deserve the security of knowing incredibly dedicated and trained professionals stand ready 24 hours a day to help you in an emergency. As dispatchers and firefighters, we deserve professional, funded and well-managed departments ready to invest in the amazing people called to fill these positions and serve.


This is why we call for these actions. We will never stop advocating for accountable, reliable and responsible public safety for everyone who lives and works in Wichita.

 


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