City of Miami Beach Public Safety Communications Division

Submitted by Jessica Lopez

In June of 2018, the Miami Beach Police & Fire Departments responded to an early-morning fire in an apartment building. No one had any idea how quickly the smoke and flames would travel through the building’s elevator shaft and dozens of 911 calls were coming in.

The first call I received was an elderly couple who was trapped in their apartment. They told me that the thick smoke in the hallway had already seeped through the cracks of their front door and there was no other safe way out. Luckily, they were able to open a small bathroom window and stick their heads out to get fresh air. During most of the call, the pair waved their hands out of the window so that responders could identify which floor and apartment they were trapped in. At one point, I heard the elderly female crying out saying that another resident had jumped from their apartment window. The desperation was inconceivable.

Other call takers were equally busy answering more calls, instructing the residents to safety and trying to calm them the best they could. Dispatchers were diligently sending full assignment apparatuses to the scene and contacting every surrounding agency that could lend a hand to control the flames and assist in rescue efforts – all while addressing scene safety concerns and doing their part to ensure the safety of the residents and first responders. Our midnight shift Supervisor that night, Ashlei Brown coordinated the speedy flow of communication between our administrators, police and fire officials and stood by each call taker and dispatcher to reinforce our synchronized efforts.

Finally after what seemed to be an eternity on the line with the couple, the husband advised that he heard fire fighters banging on their front door. Thankfully, the couple followed the instructions given by the responders and were escorted safely out of the building.

The chilling fear I sensed in my callers’ voices was nothing short of numbing. It is not until we get a call like this that we fully appreciate the significance of our extensive training. We stand firmly on our skill and trusted experience to help pull a desolate caller through what is quite possibly the most traumatic experience of their life.

The first call advising of the fire came in shortly after midnight. The scene was finally cleared at 0700 hrs. All but one of the residents was rescued from the fire – some of whom were treated for minor injuries or smoke inhalation. The one resident who was transported for traumatic injuries was hurt in an attempt to climb out of the apartment window using bed sheets.

The synergy of our combined experience and extensive training, along with the efficiency of our highly skilled first responders and the stellar leadership of our superiors allowed us to handle this demanding critical incident with utmost compassion and professionalism. #miamibeach