Stephanie Hooks pleaded for help after collapsing on the floor of her South Los Angeles home.
“I can’t breathe…. Help me breathe!” the 53-year-old grandmother wailed as frantic family members took turns on the phone with a Los Angeles Fire Department dispatcher, who alerted paramedics at a city station nearly 3 miles away.
Cummings acknowledged that county firehouses are closer than city stations in some areas of Los Angeles. But he said it was the LAFD’s responsibility to send the appropriate unit to every emergency within city boundaries. “We do it very well 1,100 times a day,” he said.
Currently, if city dispatchers want to summon county units they must use telephones, a process that takes too long, Skobin said. Over the last five years, when county fire stations were closer, LAFD dispatchers called county rescuers in less than 10% of emergency medical cases, according to the Times analysis, which included both agencies’ dispatch records.
Dwayne Anderson’s home in Hyde Park in South Los Angeles is half a block from the border and less than a mile from a county firehouse with paramedics.
Shortly before sunrise one day last March, Anderson realized that his 59-year-old girlfriend, Elaine McKinney, who had been battling breast cancer, was unconscious. She had suffered cardiac arrest, LAFD records show.
Anderson called 911 using a cellphone and was mistakenly connected to a county operator, who transferred him to the LAFD because he lived in the city.
Nervous and scared, Anderson began CPR under the guidance of the dispatcher as he waited for firefighters to arrive. He assumed rescuers would come from the nearest firehouse — the county station, where records show paramedics were available. “All I wanted was help,” he said.
Instead, LAFD units — two fire trucks with no paramedics — were being dispatched from a station nearly 3 miles away, records show.
They reached Anderson more than 11 minutes after LAFD dispatchers answered his call. It took nearly 2 more minutes for a paramedic ambulance to arrive, records show.
McKinney died at a nearby hospital, according to the county’s office of vital records. Anderson wonders whether her chances would have been better if the closest rescuers had responded. “For people who have life-and-death problems, it shouldn’t matter where you live,” he said.
Other neighborhoods with longer-than-average response times include those bordering West Hollywood, East Los Angeles and a strip of the city less than a mile wide that stretches from South L.A. to the harbor, the analysis found. Nearly 30 years ago, the city strip was labeled a “Valley of Death” by a top county medical official after a nurse suffered a fatal heart attack there — and was left waiting for distant city rescuers when county fire units were closer.
In South L.A., part of the Gramercy Park neighborhood is surrounded on three sides by county territory. That’s where Stephanie Hooks lived for more than 10 years.
A former quality-control analyst at a microchip firm, Hooks enjoyed caring for her 7-year-old granddaughter and watching her teenage daughter, Alnisha, compete in track and field events.
Early one morning, Hooks began gasping for air as she left home to walk her dogs.
“Call 911!” her husband yelled.
Family members took turns talking to the LAFD dispatcher on speaker phone, according to a copy of the 911 tape obtained by The Times.
“Stay calm ’cause the firemen are on the way,” the dispatcher said early on in the call.
After four minutes, help still had not arrived.
“They’re not here!” Stephanie Hooks shouted. “I can’t breathe!”
“Mommy, you’re scaring me,” Alnisha told her.
“I know there’s a fire station on 108th,” Alnisha said five minutes into the call, referring to the closer county firehouse where medics were available.
“Where they at?” demanded Hooks’ agitated husband, Alvin. More than a minute later, he asked again.
“They’re just a little ways away,” the dispatcher assured him. “You’ll be hearing sirens shortly.”