Emergency operator mistook choking man to be drunk

Sweden’s emergency service telephone system, SOS Alarm, has been reprimanded after an operator mistakenly judged a man to be drunk when in reality he had passed out from choking on food.

The incident occured one evening in August 2007 in eastern Sweden at the same time as a street party was taking place in nearby Gävle, reports the Aftonbladet newspaper.

Throughout the evening, operators received numerous calls about intoxicated people, and several of the reports were passed along to police, in part due to the operators’ heavy workload.

Thus, when another call came in about a man found unconscious in the street, the SOS Alarm operator also passed it along to police.

In reality, however, the man wasn’t drunk, but had passed out after a piece of meat had gotten stuck in his throat. The man was taken to a hospital, but died later that evening of asphyxiation.

In its warning issued to SOS Alarm, Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) states that the operator on duty didn’t follow standard procedures and should have asked questions about the man’s breathing, his general condition, and other factors.

The operator claims she at first classified the incident as a medical matter, but for some unknown reason she instead decided to let police take the call.

It remains unclear whether or not the man’s life could have been saved had an ambulance been first sent to the scene rather than police.