Weather prompts calls to 911 center

January 09, 2004|by WANDA T. WILLIAMS

Wind chills of zero and temperatures that rarely climbed above 20 degrees are heating up phone lines into Washington County's 911 center.

The center has seen a spike in emergency calls from flu sufferers and others with pulmonary problems, Shift Supervisor Keith Bowen said Thursday.

"From personal experience, the change in temperature makes my asthma worse," 911 dispatcher Bobby Myerly said. "This change in temperature has inflamed respiratory problems for a lot of people who turn to us for help."


On Wednesday, temperatures dipped to a low of 18 degrees overnight, and Thursday's daytime high was 30 degrees, according to local weather observer Greg Keefer's Web site.

Since Monday, 15 to 20 calls a day have been made to the 911 center from people with symptoms of the flu.

"Some callers can't seem to catch their breath," Myerly said. "They shouldn't wait so long before they call 911."

Tucked away in the basement of the County Office building at 33 W. Washington St., the 911 center crews of three emergency medical dispatchers provide 24-hour coverage.

The center handled nearly 69,000 calls in 2003.

"We're trained to handle all kinds of medical emergencies," Bowen said, "We save lives."

Bowen said dispatchers have taken very few calls from people needing a warm place to sleep, but they are working with other area agencies to refer any such callers to the nearest shelter.

While many area shelters have reached capacity during this week's cold spell, Hagerstown's Union Rescue Mission, at 125 N. Prospect St., has available beds and a hot meal for men who need to escape the outdoors.

"We were averaging seven men a night, now it's increased to 10 to 14, and it all depends on the night," Executive Director Bruce Shank said.

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