The Chicago Tribune has an article about a followup investigation into the handling of an incident last week where an elderly man drowned after driving his car into a local pond.

The emergency dispatcher who took a 911 call from an Arlington Heights man after he drove his car into a pond last week did not advise him to try to get out of the sinking vehicle, apparently in violation of the dispatch agency’s protocols.

The elderly man was rescued after [fire department divers] broke through a window, but he was pronounced dead a short time later. Some safety experts said that getting him out of the car before it became totally submerged would have been his best chance for survival.

Now, the dispatch agency that handled the six 911 calls about the accident — including the minutes-long conversation with the victim, Henry Laseke, 89 — has launched an inquiry to determine if “all standards and protocols were met,” according to a statement by Northwest Central Dispatch System.

In a recording of Laseke’s call, the dispatcher is heard asking him repeatedly for his address. The dispatcher tells him to calm down and that help is on the way.

Two minutes into the call, Laseke pleads one last time: “Hurry up, I’m sinking. The water is coming up …”

At no time did the dispatcher advise Laseke to try to open his car door or window or otherwise attempt to get out of the car.

But such instructions are part of the protocol for sinking vehicles developed by Priority Dispatch Corp., a Utah-based company that provides emergency protocols and training to Northwest Central’s 70 dispatchers.

“When somebody drives into the water and makes a 911 call, (the dispatcher would) tell them: ‘Unfasten your seat belts, open the car door and get out of your vehicle,'” said Michael Thompson, a consultant for Priority Dispatch Corp. “Anything else is counterproductive.”

Cindy Barbera-Brelle, executive director of Northwest Central, confirmed that Priority’s protocols are used by her agency, though she declined to comment on the specifics of the Arlington Heights incident.

Priority is “in the business of defining the protocols, and we follow them as they are written,” she said. “Those are the protocols that we have available to refer to, to follow when we’re processing calls.”

The incident happened about 7 a.m. Thursday, when Laseke apparently lost control of his 2013 Cadillac SUV and ended up in 8-foot-deep retention pond near his home. Neighbors say they saw Laseke talking on a cellphone inside the SUV as it bobbed in the water.

Speaking generally, Thompson said dispatchers typically do seek an address for most emergencies. But he said a sinking car requires a different response.

“Any agency that is not prepared to deal with that is probably doing their customer a disservice,” Thompson said.

Nationally, there are no mandatory standards for emergency dispatch protocols, experts said. But they added that most agencies follow common guidelines concerning emergency medical incidents, such as what steps to take if a person appears to be having a heart attack, experts said.

A sinking vehicle would be defined as a “technical rescue” that requires a special skill set and is not usually included in general guidelines for dispatchers that are provided by the National Fire Protection Association, said Ken Willette, a division manager for the Quincy, Mass.-based organization, which develops standards used by fire departments.

The Arlington Heights police and fire departments are also reviewing the incident.

Fire Chief Glenn Ericksen said he couldn’t speak to whether dispatchers are obligated to instruct callers on how to get to safety. But he said there are two crucial instructions to give someone in a sinking car: Undo the seat belt and open a window.

The National Safety Council said hundreds of people die each year due to vehicle submersion.

In such a situation, the focus should always be on escape — vehicles can sink in seconds, quicker than emergency crews can arrive on the scene, said John Ulczycki, a vice president with the council, who said he would have asked Laseke whether or not he could swim to safety.

A previous post about this incident can be found HERE.

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