Dispatchers can now give medical help
William Kaempffer , Register Staff 07/05/2004
NEW HAVEN — People dialing 911 can expect some changes when they call for help in the city.

The city’s communications center recently went online with emergency medical dispatching, enabling 911 operators to provide some medical instruction to callers while emergency vehicles are en route.

"The public is accustomed to calling 911 and saying, ‘Send me help,’ " said fire Lt. Andrew Campion, who heads the communications center. "Now they’re going to be asked a few more questions."

The city’s 14 operators went through training over the last year to become EMD certified. Now, they can provide instruction over the telephone on how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation or deliver a baby before dispatched fire engines or ambulances arrive.

By state law, all 911 centers in the state had to go online with EMD by July 1, although some towns, like Hamden, have been online for some time. Hamden has been providing the service since June 2003.

Operators now are trained to provide prearrival instruction for CPR, bleeding control, poisoning and heart attacks.

Officials from different communications centers say there have been growing pains as the public grows accustomed to the process.

Callers sometimes get agitated by a list of questions that operators ask, not realizing that a fire truck or ambulance already has been dispatched.

While Hamden police Sgt. Joseph Murray said their system has worked well, he said operators have some problems with people getting upset about the questions.

"The questions are to benefit the people," he said. "Dispatchers may be able to give the people some lifesaving instructions prior to the arrival of medical help."

Campion said cities and towns need to educate the public that these questions aren’t an inconvenience but potentially lifesaving.

Here’s how EMD works:

When someone calls 911, the operator asks a number of questions, such as the nature of the medical emergency, whether the person is breathing and whether he is conscious.

Based on the responses, the dispatcher can flip through a series of information cards that can help provide medical instruction.

There are cards for abdominal pain, allergic reactions, accidental poisoning, suicide, cardiac arrest, burns, convulsions and seizures and electrocution, to name a few.

"It’s quite detailed," said Abraham Colon, the New Haven Fire Department’s EMS coordinator.

In serious cases, the 911 operators will stay on the telephone with the caller until help arrives, providing instruction and assurance.

"There will always be an operator on the phone with the caller, so the caller will never feel abandoned," he said.

According to Campion, the state requires that 10 percent of incoming calls for each operator must be reviewed to ensure they were handled properly.

In New Haven, the 911 center answers about 144,000 calls a year.

In many towns, the EMD system also allows operators to triage calls to determine what response is applicable.

In serious calls, a dispatcher would send a fire unit with lights and sirens and dispatch an ambulance. In less serious calls, the fire apparatus might be sent but without lights and sirens. In other calls, such as in a medical transport, only an ambulance would be sent and the fire department would stay in quarters.

In New Haven, however, fire trucks will continue to be sent with lights and sirens for every medical call. Most New Haven firefighters also are trained as emergency medical technicians.

A state grant paid for EMD training for 911 operators, who must be recertified every two years.

©New Haven Register 2004

the news story entitled "" is not available at this time.