A Pennsylvania emergency dispatcher hung up on a Spanish-speaking man who called to report the house fire that later killed him.
Heriberto Santiago Jr. dialed 911 on July 27, 2020, to report the fire at his Allentown home, but a new lawsuit filed by seven former dispatchers claims the woman who answered the phone told him to speak English and hung up when he could not -- and the man and his 14-year-old nephew died in the blaze, reported PennLive.
"The plaintiffs allege some 911 dispatchers openly said they 'do not like taking calls from Spanish people' and refused to use a call translation service to help," the website reported. "Certain dispatchers forced non-English speaking callers to communicate in English or be denied emergency assistance, according to the suit."
The suit was filed against Lehigh County, county executive Phil Armstrong and six other current or former county officials, and the complaint alleges the call center fostered a "hostile environment" toward non-white and Spanish-speaking callers, including Santiago, that placed both callers and emergency personnel in danger.
The plaintiffs allege that their former colleagues slept on the job, spent time on social media, watched soap operas, sold cosmetics or played the beanbag-toss game cornhole during their shifts, which led to "countless calls" involving life-threatening emergencies going unanswered.
One employee allegedly assaulted a co-worker, according to the suit, and others transported or carried weapons in the call center.
The plaintiffs said they were asked to resign for taking part in a New Year's toast involving eggnog spiked with alcohol, which the suit claims had been approved by the former director of emergency services, but the suit alleges their employee gave misleading guidance about being able to apply for reinstatement.
None of the employees accused of assault or sleeping on the job were fired, the suit claims.