New Revelations Emerge After Chicago Stroke Victim Had to Call 911 Multiple Times

NBC 5 Investigates has learned that Chicago 911 operators had information, early on, that could have gotten help to a stroke victim much sooner -- but they insisted he help them first.

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NOTE: NBC 5 Investigates has compiled a complete transcript of Duane Raible's 911 calls, which you can read here.

When Duane Raible, a businessman from Pennsylvania, began to fall violently ill in his hotel room in downtown Chicago, he had no idea he was about to go through two major ordeals at once.

One because he was in the midst of a major stroke in his brain stem, and another, because Chicago’s 911 operators wouldn’t send him any help – insisting for ten long minutes that he had to help them first.

...I'm not there. You are. So I need you to help yourself here, a little bit, and get us an address, so that we can get you an ambulance.

Chicago 911 Operator to stroke victim Duane Raible

NBC5 Investigates first exposed the baffling series of calls that Raible made to 911 – operated in Chicago by the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications – early in the morning of October 2nd, 2019, as Raible was alone at the Thompson Chicago Hotel on Chicago’s Gold Coast.  

“The whole room went bizarre,” he said.  “I almost passed out; I pushed myself back on to the bed and lay down.” 

Raible could barely see and his limbs were going numb, and he couldn’t stand up or reach the hotel phone.  So he called 911 on his cell phone.

 911 operators in Chicago lack basic access to maps on their computers, and it took agonizing minutes for a man having a stroke in a hotel room to get help because he couldn’t remember the address of the hotel. NBC 5 Investigates’ Chris Coffey has more. 

You can listen Raible’s full exchange with Chicago’s 911 call-takers here:  Two phone calls, stretching ten minutes, in which Raible repeatedly tells 911 operators that he’s at the Thompson Chicago Hotel.  But time and again, they tell him he must give them the street address before they’ll send an ambulance. 

There’s never any indication that anyone at 911 might think to look up the address themselves, or pull up the name of the hotel on a cellphone; or send out a request over the radio for the hotel location, or simply find it on a map.  The only option, they all tell Raible, is that he must find his hotel’s address.

When NBC5 first aired these 911 calls in November of 2019, we received comments from around the nation, most asking why no one at 911 took any “common sense” measures to find Raible’s address. 

In fact, a simple five-second Google search shows the address at 21 East Bellevue in Chicago.

But an OEMC spokesperson maintained that the city’s 911 computer system was closed; that operators were not allowed to use their personal cellphones on the job; and they had no other access to the internet.

But NBC5 Investigates soon discovered that was just not true:  In fact, OEMC eventually confirmed that -- within seconds of a call like Raible’s, where the street address is unknown – 911 operators can quickly activate a light on their desks and get supervisor to look up an address on a laptop.

If you’re having a stroke, every minute counts. NBC 5 Investigates obtained a recording of two 911 calls in which a man suffering a stroke was repeatedly asked by dispatchers to provide an address, even though he gave the name of his hotel. NBC 5’s Chris Coffey investigates.

NBC5 Investigates has now also analyzed OEMC records that show that Raible’s operators actually did narrow down his location, soon after he first called.  Through the Automatic Location Information (ALI) sent in real time from Raible’s phone, operators recorded a series of four location “pings” during his phone calls:  The first:  Just a block from the hotel. The second: Just across the street from the hotel. And the last two both had the exact address of the hotel (though with names of previous hotels located there).

OEMC now says their location services are limited, and so they still would prefer an exact address. 

During the first call, Raible repeats the hotel’s name three times – and communicates multiple symptoms of a stroke.  The dispatcher responds, saying: “I understand, sir, but I’m not there.  You are.  So I need you to help yourself here, a little bit, and get us an address, so that we can get you an ambulance.”

“If I move. I get nauseous,” Raible later said about the call.  “I’m trying to think, what can I do to convey this problem, because asking for help to 911, I think, is a very basic premise that would be enough for them to send me help.”

 “She wasn’t listening to me and I didn’t know the address,” Raible added.  “I finally got frustrated; I hung up from 911.”

“And I’m now lying on the bed staring at the ceiling, thinking, this is it,” Raible said.  “I realized I had to do something on my own."

Several more minutes went by.

“And then I had a thought that if I pressed the [iPhone] button, that I could ask Siri for the address – so I did that, and Siri reported the address back to me.”

So Raible called 911 back, this time with the hotel address that operators had refused to find.  But even on that second call, it took even more time, before the operator actually seemed to understand the address. 

In all, it took a full ten minutes for the dispatcher to ask for an ambulance – and a full thirty minutes for EMS workers to reach Raible and transport him to a hospital that was just blocks away.

As a result of NBC5’s investigation, OEMC disciplined the two call-taker/dispatchers who handled Raible’s calls.  The office also said it re-trained their operators about how to get internet access, and ensured that every supervisor had a laptop for that access.

But now NBC5 Investigates has found another issue in the Office of Emergency Management and Communications that would seem to exacerbate problems for call-takers and dispatchers:  The office currently has more than ninety operator vacancies, and so the existing staff is working large amounts of overtime, to carry the workload. 

NBC5 Investigates requested the complete hours and pay for each dispatcher and call-taker in 2019.  We analyzed the results; computed the overtime pay, and discovered that nearly 200 operators were working so much overtime, they’d increased their pay to six figures. 

We found one operator who averaged 41.65 overtime hours a week – in addition to her regular 40-hour job.  She nearly tripled her regular salary – making a total of $225 thousand in 2019.

In all, OEMC call-takers and dispatchers were paid more than $9 million, just in overtime, in 2019.

In a joint statement released by OEMC and the Chicago Department of Human Resources, officials acknowledge the staff shortages, and say they “are conducting a rigorous hiring process to fill open positions at the emergency dispatch center.”

The city says it will soon administer tests for more than 150 call-taker candidates, and will also be making offers for other police and fire dispatcher positions, in the next week.

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