911 dialer's favorite crews in final call -- at mortuary

July 03, 1993|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Staff Writer

Evelyn Von Lindenberg nearly drove the fire department nuts.

Until she died this week, the fiercely independent Howard County widow called the 911 emergency number hundreds of times. Yet fire department representatives made up the bulk of those paying their respects at Kaufman Funeral Home in Elkridge.

"It's a bittersweet kind of thing," said Lt. David Proffitt, the Elkridge station medic, at the viewing Thursday. "She about drove us crazy, but it's like we were her only family.

"I was seeing her more than my parents who live in Stewartstown, Pennsylvania."

Mrs. Von Lindenberg, who was 82 and lived alone, had breathing problems, but most times she called 911 because she was lonely. She called at any hour. She called repeatedly the same day. She sorely tried the patience of fire and rescue personnel.

But the 911 dispatchers who answered her calls, the firefighters and medics who responded to her home (once four times in one day) and the fire chief who tried fruitlessly to persuade her not to call for nonemergencies all paid tribute at the viewing. And so did social workers, neighbors and hospital employees -- all part of Mrs. Von Lindenberg's extended family.

She was buried yesterday after a small funeral arranged and paid for by her next-door neighbors of 30 years, Helen and George Eisenhardt.

A meat cutter at Giant, Mr. Eisenhardt looked after Mrs. Von Lindenberg following her husband's death six years ago. Albert Von Lindenberg was a truck driver; they'd been married 53 years.

In a March interview with The Sun about her calls to 911, Mrs. Von Lindenberg said she had some relatives but wanted nothing to do with them.

"I don't like nobody coming in and bossing me around," she said.

She said she didn't like social workers telling her what to do, either.

"They've tried to get me to move into a home of some sort," she said, her voice turning sharp. "I like it in my own house. I can do what I want in my own house.

"If the time comes I can't get around and do things for myself, I'll go into a nursing home. But I'll make that decision myself when the time comes -- if I don't die before that."

She died Tuesday of cardiac arrest after undergoing surgery for a broken hip, Mr. Eisenhardt said. She fell at home Monday and managed to call 911 for the last time.

Battalion Chief Donald R. Howell, in charge of county fire and rescue services, said that in the past three years ambulances had responded to Mrs. Von Lindenberg's modest home east of Columbia more than 250 times.

Lieutenant Proffitt said he'd put the number closer to 400. "I'd almost have to say she was 10 percent of the ambulance runs this past year," he said. "We used to joke about the ambulance being on auto-pilot when it went to Mrs. Von Lindenberg's."

As part of a county task force trying to reduce nonemergency calls to 911, Chief Howell surveyed other jurisdictions in the region and found that no one dialed 911 more than Mrs. Von Lindenberg.

Monica Hammond, a 911 dispatcher, often answered.

"Sometimes she just needed somebody to talk to," Ms. Hammond said. "After a while she'd say, 'I don't really need an ambulance now.' "

"I think it was mainly anxiety," Lieutenant Proffitt said. "We'd sit there and hold her hand and try to calm her down."

Lieutenant Proffitt was one of several firefighters who took Mrs. Von Lindenberg a cake on her 81st birthday. He suggested then that she call the station directly instead of tying up 911.

Other firefighters gave her their home telephone numbers, telling her: Instead of calling 911, call me at home.

They eventually had their numbers changed. She called them all the time.

Church groups and neighbors also tried to help, said Mr. Eisenhardt. But sooner or later, everyone tired of calls in the middle of the night.

"I've had her call me 42 times in one day," said Mr. Eisenhardt, who knew because his Caller I.D. counted them. " 'Get me a glass of water; close the curtains; somebody's at the door.' I've beaten a path across her yard."

Although she could be difficult, he said, he continued to help her until the end.

"We all get old someday," he said.

During her interview in March, with an oxygen machine to her right and a telephone on a table to her left, Mrs. Von Lindenberg said in a soft moment: "I called 911 a lot; I'm not denying it. But I get short of breath quite a lot, and I get really excited. I call 911, and they come talk to me and settle me down."

She promised never to call 911 again. But she called a few days later, and a few days after that, and she kept calling until this week.

"It's awful quiet up there [at the station] now," Lieutenant Proffitt said. "It's not going to be the same."

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