In the 44 seconds it took to reach a fire dispatcher to ask for an ambulance on Thursday night, a South Side woman apparently decided that adding an Ebola diagnosis to her call would get more attention.
She was right.
The woman called 911 at 8:42 p.m. and reached a Columbus police dispatcher. She said her sister had a high fever — 107 degrees — and she needed an ambulance. That was it.
The police dispatcher quickly transferred her to the Division of Fire, where the phone rang for less than a minute before a dispatcher picked up.
This time, the caller upped the ante. It wasn’t just a fever, she said.
“I’m scared. I think my sister has Ebola. Her fever is 107, and she’s really, really hot,” the woman said.
“Was the person over in Africa recently in the last 21 days?” the fire dispatcher asked.
“Yes, she was,” the woman said.
That, authorities say, was a lie. Police and paramedics responded to 865 S. Champion Ave. as if the woman really did have Ebola — they wore hazmat suits and roped off the house with crime-scene tape.
But a few hours later, Jose Rodriguez of Columbus Public Health confirmed that the woman did not have symptoms consistent with Ebola and had not traveled to western Africa.
The false call was a drain on first responders, Rodriguez said.
“We are trying to protect the community, and a hoax really wasted our resources,” he said.
The woman who cried Ebola apparently isn’t the only person trying to capitalize on the scare related to the deadly virus. The Better Business Bureau is warning people about several Ebola-related scams and suspicious fundraisers.
A fundraising page on the site GoFundMe purports to be raising money for Amber Joy Vinson, the Dallas-based nurse who recently traveled to Cleveland and is being treated for Ebola in Atlanta. Vinson’s family told the bureau they are not promoting the fundraising.
Other pages are dedicated to raising money for different Ebola-related campaigns, but it’s not clear where that money would go. Other BBB branches have reported fundraising phone calls seeking donations to help with Ebola, but they are likely a scam, too, officials said.
Charities and fundraisers can be investigated via give.org, the charity-reporting arm of the bureau.
Throughout the five-minute call the Columbus woman made, the fire dispatcher repeatedly asked her when her sister was in Africa. The woman, who never identified herself in the phone call, said she had been there in the past month.
Once the sick woman was taken to Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, it was quickly determined that the story was made up, Rodriguez said. Whether the woman was admitted to the hospital was unclear yesterday.
Tracy Smith, a Fire Division battalion chief, said the caller might have simply wanted faster treatment for a different illness.
The names of the caller and the sick woman have not been released. Sgt. Rich Weiner, a police spokesman, said the incident is being investigated and charges could be filed.
A 19-year-old man who answered the door at the S. Champion house yesterday said he lived there with his two sisters, who are in their 20s. He wasn’t home when the call was made and didn’t know anything about either of them being sick or calling 911, he said.