Dialing 911 in Yakima from a cell phone has its limits

YAKIMA, Wash. -- You call 911 and you expect someone to answer on the other end. Even, from your cell phone. It didn't happen that way for a man here in Yakima who was having a heart attack.

"She tried three times and each time the circuits are busy," said David Jones.

He had chest pains and was unable to breathe. It was a moment when David Jones needed help the most.

"I knew I was in some pretty bad shape," said David.

His daughter wanted to be strong for the both of them. Getting help was the only thing on her mind.

"I didn't really think about going to the hospital," said Emily. "I thought 911 was kind of the only option so I was freaking out because I didn't know what else we were going to do and I didn't know if he was going to make it or not."

When David's daughter couldn't get a hold of 911, David drove himself to the hospital. Doctors told him if he waited any longer, he would've died.

David had a full cardiac arrest when he got to the hospital. His family wanted to know why they couldn't get through to 911 from a cell phone. And, should you be worried?

They sent letters to the emergency call center and the city manager to get answers. An e-mail response from the call center manager indicates each cellular company has a fixed number of lines dedicated to the 911 center.

KIMA spoke with him personally and found out there are only three lines each. If those lines are tied up, you get a busy signal like David's daughter did. The 911 center is considering adding an extra line, but said it's expensive.

KIMA contacted the family's cell phone carrier company. Verizon told KIMA it's only the second time in five years something like this happened. Verizon and the 911 center are evaluating the situation. A system they say works 99.9% of the time.

"In a life and death situation, it needs to be reliable 100 percent of the time," said David.

It's a small chance that almost cost David everything.

The 911 call center manager also said a wired telephone line is still more reliable than a cell phone.