On Saturday, April 21, an Elgin couple made a 911 call. They were frantically in need of help, but unable to truly communicate what was going on.

You hear the father repeatedly saying, “My kid, my kid…” but the rest is inaudible.

Dispatchers on the line heard the urgency in the man’s voice and a woman in the background distraught and hysterically screaming in Spanish to the point dispatchers classified it as a “disturbance” call and immediately sent police officers to the address.

With a cellphone call pinging its way into Elgin’s dispatch center the call would only last longer due to the caller being outside the city limits. 

Dispatcher: “Do you need police, fire or EMS?”

Caller: My kid is… [inaudible] …help, help.

911 Dispatcher: “Where are you at?”

Caller: “[Street number] Natural Way”

911 Dispatcher: “Give me one second, sir. Elgin PD with a disturbance transfer.”

The Elgin dispatcher realizes 33 seconds into the call where the caller is calling from and transfers the call to Bastrop County. The county takes over 42 seconds into the call. 

911 Dispatcher: “I need you to talk to me, what’s going on?”

Caller: “My kid is [inaudible] … No sale aire.” (There’s no air coming out)

It would be more than two minutes into the call before the 911 dispatcher asked the following:

911 Dispatcher: “Sir, do you speak English?”

Caller: “A little, no, not too much.”

As the shouting continued, dispatchers reached out to CAPCOG, the Capital Area Council of Governments for a translator.

911 Dispatcher: “What is going on?”

Caller: “You don’t got who speaks Spanish? [sic]”

Although that translator responded 3-and-a-half minutes from the time that service was requested that meant it took five minutes overall from the time the family dialed 911 before a Spanish speaker was on the line.

  911 Translator: “¿Señora, que es lo que está pasando ?” (Ma’am, what’s going on?)

CAPCOG says its translation services can be accessed within five to 10 seconds of the dispatcher requesting the translator. The agency says if translation services are needed, Spanish is requested 97 percent of the time in its 10-county service region.  

County Judge Paul Pape tells KXAN the average transfer time to a translator for Bastrop County 911 calls is under 24 seconds. But there have been callers who have had to wait up to 4-and-a-half minutes.

After spending several minutes on the phone with dispatchers, the family panicked and left their home with their child. They were in search of medical attention and ended up at the Elgin Volunteer Fire Department.

Next door to the fire department, the First Baptist Church was hosting a car wash, bible study and other activities on that Saturday afternoon. Those at the church noticed the family in a frenzy yelling for help and even shattering a window at the fire department as seconds turned into minutes for the family and their young son who was choking. 

This resulted in several 911 calls into Elgin’s dispatch center from those at the church attempting to help the parents. When the calls came in dispatchers initially believed this was just another call and were trying to figure out if this was related to the Natures Way 911 call. 

Acadian Ambulance responded to both calls, but halfway to the Natures Way address call, the ambulance was diverted back into town to assist with the young boy who was now at the volunteer fire department. Acadian Ambulance released this statement: 

 The call information was sent to Acadian by the Bastrop County 911 Center. Acadian did not speak with the caller. The 911 center representative indicated that the caller spoke Spanish and provided us with an address. Our ambulance was in Elgin at the time and immediately responded.  Within a couple of minutes, we received another call that diverted us to the Elgin Fire Department where the family had transported their child for help.  

Our ambulance response time from the initial call until arrival at the fire station was 5 minutes, 11 seconds.  We have reviewed the medical record and spoken with the medics who handled the call. There were no problems noted with any of the equipment; it functioned according to manufacturer specifications. All Acadian ambulances that respond to emergencies are equipped with Advanced Life Support supplies and equipment and comply with Texas Department of State Health Services guidelines. All supplies and equipment were on hand during this emergency response. Our crew remained on scene for 14 minutes, 8 seconds before transport.

The young boy was transported to Dell Children’s Medical Center where he later died after being taken off of life support. 

Language Barrier

Elgin City Council Member Juan Gonzalez says he’s aware of the translation issue and says it’s not the first time it’s happened. 

“A lady, victim, called in a robbery and it took 2-and-a-half minutes before the translator service got on,” he said. 

Judge Pape says currently there are 21 staffers, with one vacancy, in the county’s communication center and only one speaks Spanish.

Bastrop County Commissioner Precinct 1 Mel Hamner suggests an investigation.

“There’s really a difficulty in the language barriers there,” he said. “If we’re going to have a 911 center that covers the whole county, we need to be prepared to provide the services of all languages. Therefore we need to investigate why we only have one person that is bilingual in the 911 center.”

Additional resources are already on the way. In March, County Commissioners dedicated $1 million to expand 911 communications operations, as part of a facility to include IT and the Office of Emergency Management.

Bastrop County will be adding four more call-taker consoles immediately. That doubles the amount it originally had to eight. But it will be able to accommodate as many as 16 consoles.

KXAN reached out to the Austin Police Department and Travis County Sheriff’s Office to learn more about its 911 operations and translation services.

We have 11 Spanish-speaking call takers.  In the event that we receive a call from a Spanish-speaker, the call taker will either take the call themselves assuming they speak Spanish or transfer them to a Spanish-speaking call taker.  If no one is available, the call taker will use a language line to translate the call. – APD

If we receive a 911 call from a Spanish speaker and our dispatcher is not fluent, the dispatcher immediately executes a call to an interpretation service we use and an interpreter is conferenced into the 911 call. Our dispatcher continues to handle the call exactly as he or she would any other, and the interpreter translates for each party. This is a service we use every day, multiple times a day. The service also provides interpreters for other languages. – TCSO

If you can’t call 911, texting is now an option in many Central Texas counties. But there are restrictions as it is only available in English right now. To request help in a different language you’ll need to call.

And, the only way to know if your text went through is if you receive a message back from the help center.

CAPCOG says it’s always best to call if you can, and text if you can’t.

The latest available data from the federal government shows that just over 35 percent of people who live in Bastrop County are Hispanic or Latino. 

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