Dispatchers ready to give life-saving information

June 30, 1998|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Franklin County 911 dispatchers know how it feels to hear the frantic voice of a caller whose child or other loved one has been injured or fallen ill.

Beginning today, they can give callers instructions that may save a life with the Advanced Medical Priority Dispatch System.

"One of the most frustrating feelings a person has in the 911 center is when a hysterical parent calls" with a life-threatening emergency, County Director of Emergency Services Jerry Flasher said Tuesday.

In the past, dispatchers could do little but comfort them until an ambulance arrived, he said. Now, dispatchers are trained to take callers step-by-step through a series of questions about the emergency and to talk them through first-aid procedures.

Gregg Cerrone, a 911 telecommunicator for 18 years, recalled the time years ago when a child drowned in a swimming pool.


"You wonder, too, if you would have been able to get them under control enough to help that child," he said of the caller.

"With the EMD (emergency medical dispatching) program, that's your biggest challenge," Cerrone said. The questions and instructions, however, are simple enough for most callers to answer and follow, he said.

Cerrone said few of the 30,000 emergency calls received each year by the county will require pre-arrival instructions by telecommunicators.

The key to the system is a file of 32 cards covering a range of injuries and illnesses, including abdominal pain, choking, heart problems and gunshot wounds.

County Communications Coordinator Bryan D. Stevenson said dispatchers will use the cards to get information from callers, send the appropriate emergency medical unit, and tell callers what needs to be done while an ambulance travels to the scene.

Flasher said dispatchers have completed 24 hours of classroom instruction and received CPR training.

Funding for the system came from the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Emergency Health Services Federation, a nonprofit group supporting emergency medical services in an eight-county region, Flasher said.

Most of the 35 full- and part-time dispatchers are certified emergency medical technicians. Flasher said that has been a hiring requirement since 1996.

Flasher said that in the past, the lack of training and certification, as well as liability questions, prevented dispatchers from giving instructions to callers in most circumstances.

Stevenson said the system will help dispatchers determine the type of response needed. That includes whether it should be a "hot" response with lights and sirens.

Police will get "Medical Miranda cards" to help them assess the condition of a person when they arrive on the scene, he said.

Emergency medical dispatching is not new. Flasher said it is used by most surrounding counties and that Franklin County has been working to implement it for two years.

About two months after Cumberland County adopted the system, Stevenson said it was credited with saving the life of a child who had stopped breathing.

"If we're able to assist in the survival rate of just one person a year, it's worth it," Flasher said.

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