Three things stand out after last week’s Oak Cliff house fire, in which a family lost its home because the city’s 911 system was overloaded:
• Our city services are now on a par with rural southern Mississippi. A friend, who lives in the middle of nowhere near Gulfport, watched her home burn down a couple of years ago when she couldn’t contact 911. Her landline was in the burning house, so she couldn’t use that, and there was no cell service that far out. When she drove to the volunteer fire station, no one was there. I told her: “That would never happen in a city like Dallas.” Shows how much I know.
• The city’s response to the fire was its usual arrogant, elitist, bureaucratic self. The fire department insisted it arrived within the time required — once the fire was reported. This overlooks the fact that no one could report the fire because the 911 system was busy and no one at the fire house answered the door when the residents went there to report the fire. The officials who oversee the 911 system said they had plenty of employees on that night, and if the family had just been a little more patient, all would have been well. And, finally, Mayor Vision said we need to solve these sorts of problems using technology, whatever that means. I wonder: If the fire had occurred down the street from the mayor, and not in Oak Cliff, would he have been so sanguine?
• A hat tip to Eric Nicholson at the Observer, who did some real reporting on this thing. He braved the tangle that is the city budget and discovered, lo and behold, that while we can afford convention center hotels and signature bridges, we can’t afford to operate 911. As near as he could tell, the service’s budget has been cut 14 percent over the past three years. It’s good to see I’m not the only one who notices these things.