VITEMA Chief Says 911 System Was Problem Free on Fateful Night

VITEMA Director Mona Barnes testifies before the Senate in this February file photo. (V.I. Legislature photo by Barry Leerdam)
VITEMA Director Mona Barnes testifies before the Senate in this February file photo. (V.I. Legislature photo by Barry Leerdam)

A week after the death of a St. John first responder amid a report of calls to 911 going unanswered during his medical crisis, the director of the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency said the system appeared to be working properly on the fatal night.

After word of the death of veteran ambulance boat driver Liston Sprauve, VITEMA Director Mona Barnes said the emergency call service underwent an internal audit.

A relative of ambulance boat captain Liston Sprauve said he called 911 between eight to nine times on the evening of Aug. 29, to no avail. Sprauve, 74, a marine captain, diesel mechanic and emergency medical technician, provided life saving duties for the people of St. John since 1971. His brother, former Senator-At-Large Elroy Sprauve, said the captain’s medical emergency set in shortly after he returned home from work around 7 p.m. on Aug. 29.

Calls to 911 made on both a cell phone and a landline phone produced a recording that said the caller had reached the wrong number. Elroy Sprauve said he ran six blocks to the Morris F. de Castro Clinic in Cruz Bay to summon help. But by the time medical technicians arrived, their stricken co-worker had died. Attempts at resuscitation failed.

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On Tuesday Barnes released a statement through VITEMA spokesman Garry Green. According to that statement, the 911 system was checked and was found to be problem free on the day the calls came in from Sprauve’s relative.

“Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA) Director, Mona L. Barnes launched an internal investigation into calls received in the 911 Emergency Call Centers. It has been determined that the 911 Call Centers were fully operational and there were no outages or failures,” Green said.

The statement concluded that incoming calls were recorded and dispatched between the hours of 5 and 9 p.m. on Aug. 29.

“The calls placed by Mr. Sprauve were not received or recorded in the 911 Emergency Call Centers,” Barnes said.

The director added that VITEMA also contacted the agency’s telephone service provider, who said they too we would conduct an internal investigation.

Internal audits take place among 911 systems nationwide. One of the most recent took place in Virginia. But one internal audit conducted in 2016, in Montgomery County, Maryland, produced hundreds of callers getting busy signals while trying to call in emergencies. An article about the situation appeared in the Washington Post, with a local official saying problems like those should never have happened.

Greene said the Virgin Island’s 911 call centers operate 24-hours a day and operate seamlessly between St. Thomas and St. Croix when call volumes rise.

“The agency utilizes an automatic call transfer system to route 911 calls between islands seamlessly when there are outages, or spikes in incoming calls,” the VITEMA spokesman said.

Barnes wrapped up her statement by offering condolences to the captain’s family and friends.

“VITEMA’s mission is to save lives and protect property. Our personnel within the 911 Call Centers are dedicated, committed and will continue to provide critical support during emergencies, when our residents and visitors need them most,” the director said.

Shared content for Virgin Islands Source and St. John Tradewinds. 

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