Monday, February 9, 2015

Unsung Heroes in Public Safety - #MondayBlogs

I rode as an Emergency Medical Technician for nearly 30 years and responded to various calls for medical help — while enroute to the location we tried to prepare for what waited for us on scene. Of course since most, IF ANY (lol), of us are not soothsayers, we had to rely on the dispatch information we received from the 911 operator.

Sometimes the results were hilarious like the time we were sent to a "bleeding aneurysm" [an abnormal widening or ballooning of a portion of an artery due to weakness in the wall of the blood vessel.]; depending on the site and severity, this can be a life-threatening situation. Without going into gross details, the medic summed the nature of the call up while he wrote up his report, "First time I ever rode in on a diaper rash!"

Once in a while the dispatch info was, well, rather understated. There was the night we were sent to a woman complaining of a stomach ache, by the time we arrived at the hospital I had delivered an eight-and-a-half pound baby boy.

Most times the dispatch info was pretty close if not exact and included more than just the nature of the call such as road closures, hazardous conditions, directions, and the occasional need for a police presence. 911 operators have the heavy task of answering the phone and literally deciphering information from frantic, stressed, sometimes crying callers whose own message may be horribly skewed and far from reality.
I remember as a child in the Bronx, well before the inception of 911, when emergency phone calls were answered by your local police precinct, there was no caller ID, and the day a rebellious squirrel crawled through our third floor kitchen window. My mom, terrified of the "giant rodent" (her description) was shrieking as she made the phone call for help. While I don't remember the exact words anymore, I remember her message included something about an evil squirrel, a kitchen sink, and protecting her children... and then she hung up, gathered my sister and me and ran to a neighbor's apartment to wait for the police to rescue us. She never gave her name or our addressA second phone call from the neighbor's apartment did finally bring the much needed rescue.

In the mid to late 60s, based on recommendations from President Johnson's Task Force on Law Enforcement and Justice, development was started on installing a simple emergency number throughout the U.S. Eventually 911 became Enhanced-911 and today's calls are answered by highly trained, patient and quick thinking Emergency Dispatchers. Incoming calls are displayed on computer screens and most landline (wired phone systems) calls display return phone numbers and locations. Even if a caller is unable to speak, assistance can be dispatched. Knowing the nature of the call helps the operator to determine which, or how many, emergency services need to be sent (fire, police or EMS). Plans are being worked on to make cell phone calls as identifiable.

911 Emergency Dispatchers need great communication skills, knowledge and understanding of emergency situations, as well as the ability to calm frantic callers and get pertinent information from them. Their minimum education is a High School diploma AND intensive emergency training and/or certification depending on the local state requirements. EMDs (Emergency Medical Dispatch) are also trained to coach people through emergency life-saving procedures Basic First Aid until responding crews are on scene. There is a lot of stress being the beginning link in our emergency response system.

Many of us have heard the stories of heroic 911-dispatchers who have gone above and beyond their required scope of duties. On September 11, 2001, Illinois call center supervisor Lisa Jefferson spoke with Todd Beamer on the ill-fated Flight 93. She offered him comfort, encouragement, took messages for his family, and even said the Lord's Prayer with him. Her actions helped record the events of the day and brought comfort to a grieving family. Police dispatchers have also been known to save police officers; one Milwaukee operator realized that a police officer hadn't checked back in after clearing a call scene and she alerted other units, they found him having a medical emergency of his own. 

The following Public Service Announcement aired during the 2015 SuperBowl, its message was to combat domestic violence and sexual abuse. The call was based on an actual 911 call. The 911 operator was able to correctly decipher the caller's cryptic call for help and send the help that was needed; this is a terrific example of the listening skills, and quick thinking that makes the 911 emergency operator such an invaluable component of our emergency response system.

Let's send out a big Thank You to our 911 Emergency Dispatchers
and let them know we appreciate all that they do.

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