911 dispatcher tells caller to 'shut up' shortly before she drowns in flood

A former 911 dispatcher is coming under fire after a recording of her call with a drowning caller surfaced last month. 

Donna Reneau was working her last shift as a dispatcher for the Fort Smith Police Department on Aug. 24 when she received a call from Debra Stevens, according to KFTA-TV.

Stevens, 47, had been delivering newspapers in Fort Smith, Ark., early that morning when her car was swept away by floodwaters. She called 911 from her vehicle, trapped in a group of trees with water rising around her.

Reneau answered the call, during which Stevens shared that she was unable to swim and was concerned that she might drown. As the water began rising up to her chest, she repeatedly said, "I'm going to die."

The recording of the call, released by Fort Smith Police Department last Thursday, shows Reneau's reactions to the call, during which she initially dismisses Stevens's panic.

"You're not going to die," Reneau says. "I don't know why you’re freaking out."

The dispatcher goes on to scold Stevens for not seeing the floodwaters that swept her away.

"This will teach you next time don't drive in the water," she says. "I don't see how you didn't see it, you had to go right over it, so?"

Reneau, who was named the department's "fire dispatcher of the year" in February, stayed on the call with Stevens for about 25 minutes. At one point, she can be heard telling Stevens to "shut up."

"Ms. Debbie you're going to need to shut up. I need to you to listen to me," Reneau says.

First responders were dispatched a few minutes after the call started, but they didn't reach Stevens until more than an hour later. By that time, she had drowned to death.

Fort Smith Police Chief Danny Baker said in the department's statement that he was "heartbroken for this tragic loss of life." He added that despite the nature of the 911 call, the first responders were attempting to reach Stevens as quickly as possible. 

"While the operator's response to this extremely tense and dynamic event sounds calloused and uncaring at times, sincere efforts were being made to locate and save Mrs. Stevens," the statement said.

Reneau had been a dispatcher with the department for five years and had handed in her resignation earlier last month, KFTA reported. Baker said the department will not investigate Reneau, as she is no longer an employee, however it will look into "our policies, our responses [and] our dispatch center."

"We're looking at what we can do to increase training for our dispatchers in regards to swift water rescue and other things," Baker added. 

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