Memphis man calls 911 over cigarettes, highlighting abuse

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Raymond Preslar allegedly told a security guard he couldn't breathe. But when first responders got there, he admitted he just wanted a cigarette.

Emergency crews rushed from Cordova to the Superlo in Frayser, but their services weren't actually needed.

Tax payer money and emergency resources were wasted when a man who wasn't in trouble called 911.

The ordeal got him arrested.

The fire department says Preslar had done something like this a number of times before. In fact, he's labeled as a constant abuser of the 911 system.

"We certainly realize that many people call us for reasons that are not emergencies," Memphis Fire Lt. Kevin Spratlin says.

He says that's a drain on resources.

"That sometimes means that an ambulance that could be sent to a more severe call is not available," he says.

That's why the Fire Department is looking at call data to figure out who keeps calling and why.

From there, the department tries to connect them with the appropriate service, like a primary care doctor or mental health expert.

"We get a lot of people who say, 'I just didn't know where else to turn," Spratlin said.

The department is also getting ready to test a new program where part-time nurses answer non-emergency calls and figure out the appropriate response.

After all, officials say 20 percent of people who call 911 for medical reasons don't need an ambulance.

"That way they're getting the care they need while we keep our emergency resources available," he said.

The department is trying to help everyone who needs it, while being smart and efficient.

"We have to be empathetic with the people that we serve," Lt. Spratlin said.

The department will begin testing that program with part-time nurses this fall.