911 hang-ups are routine part of police work, until they’re not

by Geoff Fox

Anytime a person calls the 911 center and hangs up, police have to respond. Many times, that call was made accidentally, with no real need for emergency response. But officers don’t know that for sure until they do the footwork to track down the source of the hang-up.

Between January 1 and Monday, September 12, there have been 68 911 hang up calls reported by the Hancock Police Department and 97 for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in the Hancock area. The Sheriff’s Office received 14 hang-ups from inside Hancock city limits.

Sgt. Carly Hose of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office said of those 97 Hancock area calls, six situations were found that required some kind of action by officers.

That was also the case in one call from inside town limits this year.

Careful with that phone

There are a number of ways people have accidently called 911 and hung up. Those range from “butt dialing” to hitting the emergency call button on a phone.

Hose said most people are unaware the 911 was accidently called.

Hose said if someone accidently calls 911, police ask they speak with the 911 operator and explain what happened.

“With many of the smart phones, there is a way to trigger a 911 call without dialing in the number,” she said.

Hose said the best advice is to be aware of those functions and try to avoid it unless needed.

Parents have to be careful when giving an old cellphone to their children to play with as the emergency call function still works, even without a data plan or cell service.

“If parents are going to allow children to play with an old cell, they need to be aware that those phones still have the capability to call 911 and monitor what their child is doing,” Hose said.

While most 911 hang-up calls are found to be accidental, officers still must follow up on them. Sometimes the 911 call is a call for help, and responding saves the lives of those who couldn’t complete the call.

In July 2019, two 911 hang-ups occurred across the river in Great Cacapon where a family of three and their four dogs were rescued from apparent carbon monoxide poisoning because of such a call.

Responders to those calls found everyone inside unresponsive as a result of a gas generator running in an unvented basement of the home.

Responding deputies from the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department responding to two 911 hang-ups shortly before 2 a.m. were able to see bodies on the floor inside the residence.

Deputies kicked in the door to gain entry and, after finding the residents and their animals, became sick themselves from being inside the home.

After deputies contacted 911 for fire and EMS crews to respond, firefighters with their self-contained breathing units were able to enter the house and get the residents and animals out of the house. All occupants survived.