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The Texas Tribune-ProPublica Investigative Unit

Inside an agonizing three-hour wait for 911 response to carbon monoxide poisoning in Texas

Following a 911 call about a family that had fainted, first responders arrived at the house and knocked on the door. No one answered, so they left. Inside, an entire family was being poisoned by carbon monoxide.

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“It’s one of those things, if they get there and they have to force entry, they’re going to break the door, displace the lock,” the captain said, according to a recording of the 911 call.

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“All right, well, we have units out there. I’ll let them know. I’ll make a tactical decision on that incident, and I’ll get HPD out there,” the captain said, referring to the Houston Police Department, which often assists when emergency responders must force entry into a home.

Growing frustration

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“So, is there an update? Did you make contact with the people inside the home?” Negussie asked, according to a recording. “I spoke with the fire department earlier. They said the truck was there for 15 minutes, but that’s all they could tell me.”

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“So, we think that these people are on the floor right now as a result of carbon monoxide inhalation,” Negussie said for the third time. “Should we go and break through the window and figure it out ourselves? I’m asking you what we should do.”

“If you’re concerned that somebody is actually passed out, then I would suggest somebody go back out there and check,” the captain said.

“Disappeared overnight”

Absence of policies

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Final call

“It looks empty. Does the caller have any reason to believe somebody’s inside?” a firefighter asked the dispatcher.

“We think that a family of two parents and two children is unconscious due to carbon monoxide inhalation,” Negussie said, repeating a line he had patiently tried to convey over nearly three excruciating hours.

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