Neighbor's calls to 911 for fatal fire delayed

HOUSTON - The neighbor of a woman who died in a north Harris County house fire could not get through to 911, she said.

Wednesday night, a fire in the 13400 block of Rawlings Street claimed the life of Wanda Gann, 64.

Gann's husband, Jerry, was not home when the fire started. He left to buy ice and the house was on fire when he came back.

An initial report by Harris County fire investigators stated that Gann was smoking a cigarette while using portable oxygen equipment.

Gann had serious health issues, her family said.

But several family members said they do not believe she was smoking when the fire broke out.

"Her cigarettes were clear across the room. She couldn't move over there," son, Tracy Bagwell, said.

Bagwell said he believes wayward fireworks may have caused the July 4 fire.

Next door neighbor Jessie Barber said that she tried to call 911 several times to report the fire, but was put on hold.

"I called and called, several times. I couldn't get through to anyone," Barber said.

Local 2 Investigates confirmed that four calls to 911 were placed by Barber's phone Wednesday night.

The Harris County Sheriff's Office dispatch center also confirms that exceptionally high call volume on July 4, forced some emergency callers to wait up to 75 seconds before being connected to a person.

In this case, the call was then transferred to a local dispatch center, then to several volunteer fire departments.

Public records and information gathered from multiple agencies reveal the total time from initial 911 call to first fire truck arriving to be 10 minutes 26 seconds. The Harris County Sheriff's Office said the actual time was eight minutes, according to their separate records.

The closest responding fire department, EastTex Volunteer Fire Department, is 2/10 of a mile from the scene of the fire.

The average call time for emergency scene is about 8 minutes 30 seconds, one official said.

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