First Responders Couldn’t Track Man Because of Outdated Cellphone

BOONE, Iowa -- A Boone County man called 911 for a medical emergency Wednesday.  First responders took three hours to respond because they couldn’t find him.

The 78-year-old caller was unable to confirm his address and dispatch couldn't track the call because his cell phone was too old.

"Yesterday, was the first time that I had not been able to help somebody in my career," Katie Niemants said.

The initial call came into the Boone County Law Enforcement Center where Katie Niemants has been a 911 specialist for 14 years. Neimants struggled to understand the man. Repeatedly trying to get his address and track the cell phone's location.

“Unfortunately, in this situation the call was coming from a 911 only cell phone. Which means it’s an older cell phone that no longer has service so that will just bounce to the tower that has the nearest open signal," Neiments said.

Neimants couldn't call the man back or track his exact location, but she knew he needed help.

“My first thought for me was that he was having a stroke. He couldn't answer any questions he could just moan or groan or say no to me,” Neimants said.

Surrounding counties joined the search. Everyone frantically trying to help find the man. Meanwhile, the man called back four times finally confirming his address.

“And at the same time, I don't know how it happened as she was able to get that information from him the Bouton Fire Fighter came on scene at the same time," Neimants said.

Bouton Fire Captain was there to help.

“She replayed the 911 recording of them talking to the subject and I recognized the voice and said, 'Hey! It’s this person, here,'” exclaimed Bouton Fire Captain Karl Harris.

It took three law enforcement agencies and seventeen first responders to find the man. And at this hour, we do not know his condition. The age of the patient's phone is what made it so difficult to track. The FCC required wireless carriers to begin phasing in location data on calls in 2001. By the end of 2005, 95% of phones could give location data such as longitude and latitude.

The next phase will involve altitude, to better help emergency responders find someone in a tall building.  That information will be required starting in 2021.

Boone County authorities are encouraging anyone with an older flip-phone to upgrade or consider using a landline.

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