When a person dials 911 for help, most callers anticipate hearing something like the tapes played on the TV show Rescue 911, but right now in Bloomington, dispatchers’ responses don’t typically include the step by step first aid instructions some callers might expect.
But Monroe County Central Emergency Dispatch Communications Manager Jeff Schemmer, says that’ll be changing in the next few months. In part, he said, that’s thanks to perceptions generated by television.
“TV drives a lot of what people see. The down side of it is it drives a belief to people that watch TV that is not real. And EMD kind of went into that one with shows like 911 with William Shatner. I mean, they would show these people in this low lit room and it was really calm and they were talking really calm and not a lot of people, in fact the majority of the United States wasn’t doing that. It’s been a very slow process,” Schemmer said.
In 2003, the Indiana State legislature passed a law requiring all personnel answering 911 calls or dispatching emergency services to be trained in Emergency Medical Dispatch or EMD. EMD is a process giving dispatchers step-by-step instructions written out on color coded flip cards arranged by age and the severity of an emergency. Dispatchers relay that information — often called pre-arrival instructions — to the person on the other end of the phone. In addition, Schemmer says EMD helps managers to prioritize calls.
Schemmer said the Monroe Country Dispatchers have always given some pre-arrival instructions, pointing out that all of the dispatchers already are CPR certified. But dispatcher Vickie Haley says that’s not the way she’s done it.
“I would ask them if they know CPR. If someone there knows CPR and is willing to give it then they can. Other than that we just send the ambulance at this point,” Haley said.
But Haley, who has a pad of flip cards already on her desk in preparation for the EMD classes she’ll take, did say she thinks the training will really help.
“The most chance that you’re going to have of someone surviving from chocking, going unconscious, heart attack, is going to be within the first few minutes of it happening,” Haley said. “So if there is someone there that is able to start CPR, that is able to start chest compressions, that is able to do the Heimlich, they’re going to have more of a chance of surviving than the time frame that it would take for the ambulance to get there.”
Schemmer said the training — which he’s quick to point out the state mandated but didn’t fund — is expensive and can be done through several companies in the area. The problem, he said, comes from trying to keep four dispatchers working per shift while finding a way to fit in the 40 hours they’ll need to spend in EMD training to be certified.
Schemmer said some companies refuse to hold a class without a minimum number of people in attendance. So he and other dispatch managers in other counties have been forced to be creative. In Monroe County, some personnel have been given the proper training to be allowed to train their colleagues in house.
In Lawrence County, Bedford Police Department Dispatch Supervisor John Fish said the dispatchers working for him have been exempted.
“If we get a 911 call for an ambulance we transfer the call by pushing one button to the particular ambulance service, and they’ve got the EMD training to dispatch at the ambulance services. We generally stay on the line to determine if the ambulance call could be something that could also involve the police or not,” Fish explained.
Fish, who appeared in a 1988 episode of Rescue 911, said he disagrees with Jeff Schemmer about the truthfulness of the show’s portrayals of dispatchers. Bloomington Hospital spokeswoman Amanda Roach said the EMT’s there do not necessarily have EMD training, nor are they required to receive it. Schemmer said his dispatchers should be fully trained by the beginning of August.