911 operators will get new protocols

Every 911 operator in Massachusetts — more than 5,000 of them — will learn new call-taking protocols to help them avoid the types of mistakes that slowed emergency responders’ search for my wife, Laura Levis, after her 911 call to State Police.

Operators will be taught to pay closer attention to any information regarding the specific location an emergency caller provides — in Laura’s case, she said she was outside a locked emergency-room door. A training module will also better teach operators how to handle asthmatic callers or anyone else having trouble breathing.

State 911 leaders pledged these changes to me, in person, when I met them days before Christmas at the State 911 Department headquarters in Middleborough. They went around the table, at first apologizing for failing Laura, then thanking me for sharing her story in order to improve 911 calls for all in need.


Emergency responders took 10 minutes to find Laura as she lay outside the door of Somerville Hospital, in part because Laura’s 911 operator failed to pass along vital information to local police, including Laura’s exact location and the severity of her condition.

“There’s no way Laura’s call can’t change what we do, because we’re sitting here today, and we shouldn’t be,” said Matthew Barstow, director of telecommunications for the State Police. “And you shouldn’t be.”

Barstow said the operator who handled Laura’s 911 call was one of his best — “she would be the one I would want handling my 911 call if myself or a loved one had to call,” he said. When he and other supervisors first reviewed Laura’s call, they agreed that it passed all of the state’s quality-assurance standards.

Only when they read “Losing Laura” in the Globe last month were they able to see how errors of omission led to Laura’s tragic death.


On account of Laura, the state will work to raise its quality-assurance standards for both local and State Police operators, said Matthew Moran, undersecretary for the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.

“We view this as an opportunity to partner with you,” he told me.

I thanked him for that chance.

It was the second intense — and personal — meeting I had this month with emergency-response officials regarding Laura’s call. Moved by her story, the leaders of both the Somerville Police and Fire departments — Chiefs David Fallon and Charles Breen, respectively — also promised to improve their responses to 911 callers, with additional training of their own.

“When I lay my head down at night, I think, we failed her,” Fallon said.

Even two years after Laura’s death, everyone involved in trying to save her that morning — from dispatchers who could have passed along better information, to the firefighters who found Laura on her bench, to a police detective who ran into the emergency room yelling for help — deeply remembers her, the two chiefs said.

“My crew,” said Breen, “will probably never get over it.”

Peter DeMarco can be reached at peterdemarco @hotmail.com.