Milwaukee Fire Department to review 911 call system after woman was found dead at bus stop

Drake Bentley
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Jolene Waldref, 49, of South Milwaukee died Jan. 15 after investigators say she slipped and fell on ice at a bus stop in Milwaukee. In subzero temperatures, she likely died of hypothermia, the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner said.

The Milwaukee Fire Department will review the actions and procedures of the 911 call system, after Jolene Waldref was found dead near a busy city bus stop earlier this month.

According to the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office, Waldref, 49, slipped, fell and hit her head on a fence on a nearby property near the intersection of North 76th and West Congress streets on Jan. 15. The city had been experiencing subzero temperatures, extreme wind chills, and snowy and icy conditions.

The fire department said in a statement Thursday that 911 call-takers received a call from a person in medical distress at the bus stop and about 20 minutes later another person called to report an unresponsive person near the same bus stop. The department did not provide times of the calls and did not immediately respond to questions.

Both calls were received by the Milwaukee Police Department, which then transferred the calls to the fire department because "the current state of the City's 911 call system requires the transfer of medical calls and validated triage system be used to determine the acuity of calls as they arrive," a statement from the fire department states.

"We take our responsibilities very seriously, and as such, we are currently reviewing the actions of the responding units, and the recordings of the 911 call-takers."

Eventually, paramedics arrived and tried to revive Waldref but couldn't.

The medical examiner is investigating Waldref's death as probable hypothermia, as she was found outside during extreme cold the city was experiencing. Waldref was the fourth person in the county to die from exposure to the elements this month.

Waldref leaves behind two daughters, ages 14 and 21. Her longtime partner, Kevin, died about six months ago, said former neighbor Jodi Pelczynski. Waldref had served as the caregiver for her partner, who was disabled. She also was a receptionist at a home health care agency.

"She'd give her shirt off her back if you needed it," Pelczynski said. "Always had a smile, always had a story. Always just loved life."

Questions remain about the condition of sidewalks near areas that pedestrians travel through, like bus stops. The Milwaukee County Transit System said it doesn't have the resources to clear snow from its 4,000 bus stops around the county.

"We rely on municipalities, property owners, and businesses to clear bus stops and sidewalks as described in their local ordinances," the statement read. "Seniors and persons with disabilities who rely on transit need a clean pathway to access to the bus. Please do your part by helping to keep bus stops safe."

Sophie Carson contributed to this report.