HOUSTON — It was 9:08 p.m. when Michael Negussie’s phone rang. Twenty minutes had passed since he called 911 asking for emergency crews to check on his cousins and their two children, fearing that they had fainted from carbon monoxide poisoning in their Houston home during a massive winter storm.
A fire captain at the dispatch center told Negussie that an emergency crew had arrived at the two-story town house. But, he said, no one was answering the door.
“It’s one of those things, if they get there and they have to force entry, they’re going to break the door, displace the lock,” the captain said, according to a recording of the 911 call.
Negussie was baffled. Why would emergency responders expect someone to come to the door if the reason for the call was that the family was unconscious?
“Yeah, that’s fine. Do that as soon as possible,” Negussie, 21, responded, trying to convey the urgency. “We think that they might have inhaled carbon monoxide in the garage.”
At any other time, Negussie would have driven the 24 miles from his home in Pearland, Texas, to his cousins’ southwest Houston neighborhood. But local government officials had urged Texans not to travel the ice-coated roads on this frigid Feb. 15 evening, concerned that they would endanger themselves and first responders.
So Negussie and his parents put their faith in the emergency responders who had arrived at their cousins’ home. As the fire crew waited for more information about why the family was not answering the door, the captain at the dispatch center asked Negussie what made him believe his relatives had inhaled carbon monoxide.
The power was out, Negussie explained. Their car, he had learned from someone who had spoken with the family earlier in the day, was running in the attached garage so they could charge their phones.
“All right, well, we have units out there. I’ll let them know. I’ll make a tactical decision on that incident, and I’ll get HPD out there,” the captain said, referring to the Houston Police Department, which often assists when emergency responders must force entry into a home.
“And you’ll keep us updated?” Negussie started to ask. The fire captain hung up before he could finish.