NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A Good Samaritan says he spotted a man who had collapsed and needed emergency help on a sidewalk in the Garden District. But Bernel Thompson says when he called 911 Monday morning, emergency crews didn't show for almost an hour.
"I was leaving my house going to the dentist and I saw this guy half a mile from my house," Thompson said.
Thompson pulled over at Camp and Delachaise streets.
"He hit his head," Thompson said. "I asked if he wanted me to call anyone. He said no but I called them anyway because he was delirious or something. …I called them, I talked to the dispatcher. She hooked me up to EMS and I waited 20 minutes, I called them again.
"It was 8:55 when the fire department pulled up, and they said they just got the call five minutes ago," said bystander Sara Milliken.
Milliken works for an assisted living home nearby and was one of several people watching it all unfold.
"I got out here, and for about 45 minutes three of us we were calling the ambulance, and they kept saying, 'they're on their way, they're on their way,'" she said.
"Half hour, 45 minutes - pedestrians started coming," Thompson said. "I started crying and stuff because I was angry. It was so crazy."
"EMS got here 14 minutes after us, and we got the call at 8:50," New Orleans Fire Department Capt. Deany Robert said. "We arrived on scene at 8:59, and we started working the code."
Robert said he was one of the first to arrive. Thompson took pictures of the first efforts to save the ill man.
Asked how a mix-up could have happened if the man was indeed without help for that long, Robert replied: "I have no idea. We get dispatched by fire alarm and we go when we're called."
"You tend to get angry - what can you do?" Milliken said. "It's almost like you want to put him in the truck and bring him a block away to the hospital."
"I can't tell you where miscommunication came in if that's the case, or if he communicated to someone passing or how it's transmitted," Robert said.
"You got a guy laying on the ground, he's got a wedding ring on, he must have some type of family, and you're hearing dispatchers saying, 'we're on our way, we're on our way,'" Milliken said. "What can you do? It's sad."
Some of the call time and arrival times are contradictory, according to bystanders and the NOFD. The city says their logs show that the 911 center received the first call at 8:36, but they were told that the man who fell was conscious, so they labeled the response "not urgent."
Then they got another call at 8:49 stating the same man was having a seizure. Operators upgraded the response to a priority and dispatched fire and EMS. They say fire arrived at 8:58, and EMS got there at 9:04 a.m.
The city says it can't release the man's condition.
The city added that it's trying to improve response time by cross-training call takers so they're able to handle any emergency.