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Public Outcry Over Operator's Rudeness Toward Drowning Victim

An Arkansas woman called 911 for help, and instead, critics say, she was treated with callous indifference. That woman later died before responders could reach her, and her death has sparked outrage in their community.

Debra Stevens dialed 911 after her car was caught in rapidly rising flood waters. In a panic, Stevens was having some difficulty communicating her location to Donna Reneau, the dispatch worker who took the call. Nevertheless, according to the audio and transcript, Reneau was, at several points, neither professional nor compassionate in her demeanor.

Trying to explain how she ended up driving into the water, Stevens admitted that she didn’t see the hazard. Reneau responded, “I don’t know how you didn’t see it.” When Stevens told Reneau that she could see onlookers from nearby apartment balconies, Reneau told Stevens, “A lot of people aren’t going to put themselves in danger just because you put yourself in danger.” Then as Stevens’ panic began to intensify, Reneau told her, “Miss Debbie you’re going to have to shut up.”

In a statement, interim chief Danny Baker lamented the outcome:

I am heartbroken for this tragic loss of life and my prayers are with Debra’s family and friends. All of our first responders who attempted to save Mrs. Stevens are distraught over the outcome. For every one of us, saving lives is at the very core of who we are and why we do what we do. When we are unsuccessful, it hurts.

Stevens’ call came during the final shift of Reneau’s five-year tenure. She had been a certified trainer and had been previously honored as Fire Dispatcher of the Year in February. Baker said, “Donna Reneau is a good, decent human being who has saved countless lives in the last five years. It is so unfortunate that her entire career will be defined by this single incident.”

Potential Preaching Angles: Even in moments of crisis, kindness can help make a difference. Those who try to help without being kind can cause greater hurt and turmoil through their thoughtlessness.

Source: Joshua Bote, “Arkansas woman drowns after 911 dispatcher tells her to 'shut up'” MSN.com (8-31-19)

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