Emergency callers to San Diego Fire-Rescue Dispatch waited more than two minutes for a dispatcher to answer their 911 call on seven occasions last week, according to call center data obtained by NBC7.
The seven calls were a very small fraction, less than a hundredth of a percentage point, of the total 4,090 calls the center answered last week. The Metro Zone Emergency Command and Data Center (ECDC) answered the vast majority of calls within 15 seconds.
Calls were answered in less than 15 seconds between 91 percent and 98 percent of the time each day, the data shows.
In recent months, staffing levels in the ECDC have dipped to levels that concern dispatchers, fire administration officials and outside consultants.
The staffing shortfalls are causing mandatory overtime for dispatchers, missed breaks and potential burnout on a very stressful job, sources told NBC 7.
A spokeswoman said the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department (SDFD) is in the process of hiring 14 more dispatchers and improving operations of the center.
Citygate, a management consultant commissioned to study the problem, found SDFD's staffing minimum of six to nine dispatchers was "insufficient by any reasonable calculation to handle incoming calls during peak hours."
The March 2017 report was never heard at a public meeting, and several city councilmembers told NBC 7 they were unaware of the report or its findings until our news report on Wednesday.
NBC 7 requested and obtained data for approximately the past week of 911 calls into the dispatch center. The department tracks the data in categories of less than 15 seconds; between 15 seconds and 60 seconds; between 60 seconds and 120 seconds; and more than two minutes.
The data can be viewed here.
Last Saturday, five emergency callers to 911 waited more than two minutes for a dispatcher to answer.
University Heights resident Sam Sahagun said two minutes is too long to wait for an answer to a 911 call, even if it happens very rarely.
"I'd be panicking," he said. "I'd be angry and upset. 911 is what we are told when we grow up. That's the number to call if there's an emergency, so if I can't get a response in a minute of what to do ... What if it's my parent? What if my mom or dad is having a heart attack?"
NBC 7 contacted the SDFD and the mayor's office Tuesday morning for their responses on this story. As of Thursday, both the mayor and the SDFD fire chief declined on-camera interviews.
SDFD spokeswoman Mónica Muñoz sent the following information:
"We are looking to improve the operations of ECDC. We are currently in the process of hiring 14 dispatchers. These individuals will be assigned their interview dates very soon. We are also looking into the possibility of changing to a different shift schedule versus the current 12-hour shift schedule. This would be to better utilize the resources we currently have."
Muñoz added that the public could help SDFD tremendously by not calling 911 for non-emergencies.
"We recommend talking to your kids and family members about using 911 and also having a plan in case of an emergency," she said.