Monday, January 22, 2007

"Listen carefully and I'm going to tell you exactly what to do next." ~ NAED Emergency Medical Dispatch Protocol

I thought maybe it was about time that I wrote about something that frustrates me on a fairly regular basis as a 911 dispatcher. It isn't anything new - it's something that I've been frustrated about ever since I first picked up a headset and answered a 911 call but despite the fact that I have heard the same thing over and over and over again for so many years, it still amazes me what the mindset of most people seems to be.

911 is not an instant fix no matter what people might think; no matter what the movies or television has portrayed it generally doesn't work like that. No one has yet to invent the technology that will "beam over" a police officer or paramedic or firefighter to the scene of an emergency - I wish someone would but until then it takes a bit of time for emergency personnel to get from Point A to Point B and, believe it or not - yelling in my ear to just "get the blankedy-blank-blank ambulance here!" (or cops) is not going to make them get there any faster.

I understand the frustration that people have during times of emergency, I understand the desire to get a trained professional to the patient as soon as possible, and I understand that five minutes can seem more like five hours when you're waiting for that help to arrive. I am not discounting the panic, the anxiety, or the fear. I get it, I really do.

But - here's the thing - I can offer help to that panicked caller who can then offer help to the patient and that might just make the difference as to the outcome of the call. The State of Connecticut requires all emergency dispatch centers like the one I work in to have training in Emergency Medical Dispatching. That doesn't mean that I just answer the phone, get the address, and then send an ambulance tearing out of the bay with lights flashing and sirens wailing. What it means is that I ask a specific series of questions designed to send the patient the best level of care possible - questions that seem to frustrate a lot of callers as some of them will interrupt me with "do you have to ask all these stupid questions, can't you just send the ambulance?!?"

What some people don't seem to understand is that generally my partner has already started the ambulance while I continue to ask the caller questions (if I've got no partner then I will put the caller on hold just long enough to get the ambulance going and then come back to continue the call). Even though I tell the caller that my partner has already started the ambulance most of the time that part seems to go unheard. Because of that the person on the other end of the phone feels like the ambulance hasn't even been started yet but help is already on the way. And more importantly, help may very well be the person that I'm talking to on the phone.

Part of the Emergency Medical Dispatch system is the ability for myself and other trained 911 operators to give life-saving instruction over the phone - instructions that could make the difference between life and death for some patients - instructions that give the caller the ability to render aid before the ambulance crew arrives. I can give step-by-step instructions on how to perform CPR, I can tell someone how to perform rescue breathing, I can tell a person what to do if someone is experiencing a seizure, I can even give instruction on how to control a nosebleed until help arrives.

The bottom line is I can help the caller to help the patient but the caller has got to let me do that. He or she has got to take a deep breath, calm down, and listen to the instructions that I'm giving. Together we can help the patient until the trained emergency medical services arrive and rather than feel frustrated and stressed and panicked, the caller can have a feeling of accomplishment knowing that they helped the patient.

There is nothing in my job that makes me prouder than when I know that I've helped someone help someone else - when I've had the opportunity to use the resources at my disposal to help save a life or at least give someone the chance to make a difference. Sadly, even with these great resources at our disposal, it isn't always possible to save someone but it's a far cry better than just taking down the address, saying I'll send someone, and hanging up on the poor person on the other end of the phone so that they can pace the floor and wring their hands helplessly while waiting for help to arrive.

All I ask in return is for the caller to understand that I'm not just asking a bunch of stupid questions, that I'm not delaying the help that is needed, and that the blankedy-blank-blank ambulance has already been sent.

As I said before, I know that minutes can seem like hours but together we can make those minutes count.


  1. Great post and well said. I think your job is an admirable one. It must be so frustrating when people won't listen to you!

  2. This is a powerful and important post! Do you actually tell them that the ambulance is on its way? I feel sure you do, but they are just too panicked to hear you.

    After the BLOG VILLAGE Carnival is over, I'd like to copy part of this over to the News blog, and send them to your blog to read the rest, if that's alright with you.

    So if you need help getting the voting link for BLOG VILLAGE on your page, please let me know.

  3. Your job may be harder to do than the Emergency Tech or the Police officer. You have to use your experience to overcome the problems with deprate people on the line.

    Great post, thanks for the insight.

  4. Desperate, I must have panicked

  5. Thank you for what you do! I hope I never need you, but if I do, I'm glad you are there. And I'll try and remember the info you just gave me (you whomever answers the phone here in Ohio):)


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