Help me, my baby isn’t breathing!
When 3-year-old Miranda Lee stopped breathing during a seizure, her mother didn’t know what to do. Hysterical with fear, she managed to dial 911.
“Miranda came into my room and lay down with me, which is really weird because she doesn’t ever do that,” Lee said. “Then she started shaking all over, stopped breathing and her eyes rolled into the back of her head. I just grabbed her and ran into the other room and started yelling, ‘Help me.'”
Lee said her step-father was in the house, but without 911 dispatcher Harry Raub on the other end of the telephone, she wouldn’t have been able to help her little girl.
“He (Raub) was very helpful and tried hard to calm me down and in that situation, it was very hard to do,” the Gardnerville Ranchos resident said.
Raub said he just tried to assess the situation by going through the list of reasons Miranda stopped breathing. He said it is difficult without letting the emotion of the situation get to him.
“You need to make sure they don’t get you nervous. I’ve listened to some (previously-taped) calls that are very stressful. You have to get them calmed down to get them to help you know what’s wrong,” he said.
This incident illustrates the importance of 911 dispatchers during National Telecommunicators’ Week, April 11-17.
n Helping people. Raub, who is also a trained emergency medical technician, said one of the reasons he enjoys his job is because of all the different ways he is able to help people.
“We get calls for everything from things like people not breathing to questions about the noise ordinance,” Raub said. “I like being able to do resource management for everything. When I help someone out, it is worth it when I go home at night.”
His boss, communications shift supervisor Ronald Sagen, said helping people is one of the best parts of the job for him, also, but it takes a special kind of person to focus on that part of the job, and not on all the negative aspects.
“We take a lot of verbal abuse – more so than what human beings should,” Sagen said. “(To do this job), you’ve got to have a strong personality and a tough skin. It also takes a caring person who can regulate their emotions. You cannot get emotional about a call.”
Sagen said the national average time people spend in the field is only 3-1/2 to 5 years until they burn out and quit.
He said the Douglas County office is currently experiencing problems related to that. Normally, the center would have 15 dispatchers working three to a shift. Now, however, because two are out on convalescent leaves, two positions are unfilled and one person is in the middle of her 16-week training, leaving 10 on duty.
Sagen said he doesn’t necessarily try to scare applicants away, but he wants to let them know what the job is like before they invest in time and energy in training.
“They have to be able to do multi-tasks and have common sense,” he said. “You have to have a split ear. I guess it’s like being a parent – you listen to everything that’s going on. You have to make decisions literally in seconds. You have to talk and type at the same time. I like to have people interested in the job sit with a dispatcher for a while just to get all that “911” TV show stuff out of the picture and see the real workings of it.”
n Dispatch center. The center is divided into three stations. One person answers all 911 calls, one person dispatches fire and EMT personnel, and one person dispatches police personnel. They handle calls for Douglas County fire and sheriff’s office, Alpine County fire, Washoe Tribal Police and Douglas-Tahoe Fire Department.
All their equipment is computerized: the phone system, the radio system they use to tone out fire stations and how they log calls.
Mastering all three dispatch posts and all the computer equipment are only a few of the reasons the training for a new employee takes 16 weeks, Sagen said.
Dispatchers are trained to talk callers through a medical procedures over the phone – something Sagen said they do on a regular basis -making what Raub did for little Miranda a regular part of the day rather than a special event, he said.
The dispatchers do get some recognition from all their hard work during this week, however.
Sagen said they all deserve more, but he does acknowledge them with a certificate.
The Douglas County Commission also recognizes National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week with a proclamation.
“I really think, and I haven’t had the opportunity to call them, thank heaven, but from what people have told me, their professional, helpful and calm behavior really helps set the tone for the whole (incident),” said County Commission Chairman Jacques Etchegoyhen.