ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A 911 caller said she was panicked about a friend being shot but stayed as calm as possible before a New Mexico dispatcher told her to “deal with it yourself” and hung up as she sought aid.
Seventeen-year-old Esperanza Quintero told The Associated Press Wednesday that she wished dispatcher Matthew Sanchez had done more to help after her friend Jaydon Chavez-Silver was shot in June while watching friends play cards inside a home. He later died.
In the recording, Quintero snaps at Sanchez for repeatedly asking whether the 17-year-old Chavez-Silver is breathing.
“It was upsetting at the time but I didn’t have a choice,” Quintero said. “What more could I have done?”
The exchange illustrates the stress that comes with life-and death 911 calls and how they can be mishandled.
“Somebody with no experience at all, it’s almost understandable,” said Brett Patterson of the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch. “But if you’re trained and certified, it’s not forgivable. That should never happen.”
Officials said Sanchez was employed by the Albuquerque Fire Department for 10 years and was a firefighter before being assigned to a dispatcher job. It was unclear why the change was made.
He resigned Tuesday after the recording was made public.
Efforts to reach Sanchez were unsuccessful. A message left with Local 224 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, the union representing Albuquerque firefighters, was not immediately returned.
Dr. Jeff Clawson, medical and research director of the academies, said records show Sanchez became certified as a dispatcher in February 2012 and was re-certified two years later.
“He had relatively high scores on the exam. There were no other notes negative or otherwise in the file,” Clawson said. He added that Albuquerque has a top-notch reputation within the emergency dispatch community.
Most training makes emergency dispatchers aware that being on the receiving end of comments by an angry caller is a common occurrence. The key is not to take it personally, Patterson said.
“You need to keep yourself out of that fray and understand, empathize that people on the other end of the line are in their worst possible position,” he said.
Quintero told KOAT-TV that she tried to stop Chavez-Silver from bleeding and gave him CPR.
“I am keeping him alive!” Quintero is heard saying on the 911 call.
Sanchez asks, “Is he not breathing?”
The caller responds, “Barely!”
The caller is then heard frantically encouraging Chavez-Silver to keep breathing.
“One more breath! One more breath!” Quintero tells him. “There you go Jaydon. One more breath! There you go Jaydon. Good job! Just stay with me, OK? OK?”
Sanchez then asks again, “Is he breathing?”
Quintero responded, “He is barely breathing, how many times do I have to (expletive) tell you?”
“OK, you know what ma’am? You can deal with it yourself. I am not going to deal with this, OK?” the dispatcher says.
It seemed from the tape that Sanchez hung up on the caller in mid-sentence.
“No, my friend is dying,” she said as the call ended.
Sanchez dispatched an ambulance to the scene before he hung up and it arrived less than five minutes after it was sent, Fire Department spokeswoman Melissa Romero said.
Chavez-Silver was rushed to a hospital where he died. Investigators said a bullet struck him in his upper body.
Chavez-Silver’s mother Nicole Chavez said the family was heartbroken after hearing the 911 call.
“It was like a nightmare coming back all over again and hearing our son fight for his life in the background,” Chavez said. “I am deeply upset with the dispatcher, his behaviour and response on the call was completely unacceptable.”
Patterson said the dispatcher should have acknowledged Quintero’s frustration then forged ahead with whatever protocol he was trained to follow.
“You move on with what’s actually happening at the scene and disregard the emotional content,” he said.
The family said Chavez-Silver, a recent high school graduate, had enlisted in the U.S. Air Force.
Police said he was watching the card game at a friend’s house when six shots were fired at the bay windows from outside. Witnesses said Chavez-Silver yelled that he had been shot then fell to the floor.
No arrests have been made in the shooting.