9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Your Own Emergency

Taken from lawofficer.com
Written by David Diamond in Public Safety Communiations Volume 76 Issue 3 March 2010

Call them 911 calltakers, dispatchers, telecommunicators; they are a special breed. They are trained to be the voice at the end of the phone that remains calm, cool and professional no matter what the call. Training is extremely important in this profession because you never know what to expect. From assaults, fires, accidents, motor vehicle crashes, childbirth, cardiac arrest, choking, etc., telecommunicators are trained to respond in an instant's notice to provide the correct information and dispatch accordingly or pass the information rapidly to another dispatcher. It's very hard to keep emotions out of a call, but they have to; they have a job to do.

But what happens when a call comes in that personally affects the calltaker? It's a member of their family or a close relationship. Don't think it doesn't happen. It's the one call we all dread receiving. This is when training kicks in - and rapidly. You take the call, process the information and get the response going. It's easy to say that it's second nature and just an automatic response, but it really is.

In 2002, 911 calltaker Summer Sandness of Fargo, ND, answered the dreaded call. Her mother was having a seizure. Before she released the call, she spoke with a paramedic who asked if her mom has any wishes. At first, she was oblivious to what the paramedic had asked, and then she was told that her mother was in cardiac arrest. Unfortunately, her mom dies, but Sandness did her job as she was trained to do. In Sandness' situation, her APCO Chapter was extremely supportive and reached out to her as much as they could, including sending a memorial card and flowers to the memorial service. At that time, she had only been a member of North Dakota APCO for six months.

Such a dreaded call also came to veteran operator Mike Bowen of Quincy, Mass. As he reported to Amy Robach on Today, that call hit way too close to home. It was a call for a blazing house fire in Quincy that turned out to be his home. Miller commented, "It's surreal. First, you don't believe it. You hear it, but it's not registering. Then you see it on the screen and you realize, 'It's my house.'" Mike was concerned for his parents' safety because they were both in the house. Fortunatley, they were safe. Although his first concern was for them, he was also committed to doing his job. "You can't just run out," he said. "You can't leave everybody else and leave the city shorthanded and without help." Mike and his family lost everything but the clothes on their backs.

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