Emergency Medical Dispatch – Saving Lives

Below are a few of the stories recounting events where certified Emergency Medical Dispatchers (EMDs) saved the lives of those who called for help, before help could arrive.

The Office of EMS Accredited Emergency Medical Dispatch Public Safety Answering Points have specially trained EMDs who can walk callers through situations that help provide care before the ambulance arrives, they also can better assess the situation to dispatch the appropriate resources.

  • James City County
  • Fairfax County 911


James City County

Recognizing Master Emergency Communication Officer Heather Chatman

On September 14, 2011 Bob Smolko opened the Virginia Gazette newspaper and immediately took note of the lead story – “Radio Dispatchers saved two lives”.  As he read the story, he was taken back to a pivotal moment in his life.

Shortly after 5 p.m. on March 5, 2011 after enjoying an afternoon with his 82 year old father, Bob pulled away from Monticello Shopping Center and realized that his father was having what he thought was a heart attack.  Stopping on Monticello, he turned on his flashers, grabbed his father’s cell phone and called 911.

Master Emergency Communication Officer Heather Chatman with James City County 911 answered Bob’s call for help and quickly determined that Bob’s father was unconscious and not breathing.  Officer Chatman asked Bob if he knew CPR and he replied that he did not.  Chatman then directed Bob to place his father on a flat surface to begin CPR. Chatman was immediately met with her first challenge in that Bob’s father was in the front seat of his truck.Without delay, Chatman asked Bob to lay the seat as far back as possible and begin resuscitation by providing two deep breaths followed by 30 chest compressions being careful to explain exactly where and how to place his hands.

Even though Bob could hear the siren of the inbound medic, Officer Chatman kept him on the line instructing him to continue until they were by his side.  After three rounds of breaths and compressions, the medics took over and initiated an AED which resulted in a conversion.  Medics explained to Bob that if he had not been performing CPR, they would not have been able to bring his father back.

Unfortunately Mr. Smolko’s father passed away three days later, but the extra time did allow his family the opportunity to say goodbye and be at his side.

Officer Chatman played an integral role in the EMS Chain of Survival and has recently been added to “The Tree of Life”, a plaque displaying the name of the Public Safety Communication Officer and the date in which they saved a life.

Master Emergency Communications Officer Heather Chatman pictured with Director Julie McKercher (Right) and Deputy Director Jackie Carroll (Left).
Recognizing Master Emergency Communication Officer Kathy Larrimore

Inscribed on a pouch that holds their headsets are phrases like: Prevented a suicide…Helped find a lost child…Recovered a stolen vehicle…Worked with heroes…These are the typical day to day scenarios which occur in the life of a Public Safety Emergency Communication Officer.  One of the phrases that stands out for James City County particularly in the month of May is “Instructed someone on CPR (and it worked, they’re alive)!”

On Tuesday, May 24, 2011, just 3 hours into her shift, Master Emergency Communication Officer Kathy Larrimore answered a call from a citizen on News Rd. close to the intersection of Centerville Rd.  The citizen was reporting a man convulsing and lying unconscious in a field.  After a quick assessment, Larrimore determined through briefly questioning  the caller, that the individual was not showing signs of life and instructed them step-by-step in CPR encouraging them to continue until medics arrived.  It was determined that the individual had been in cardiac/respiratory arrest and because of the instructions provided by  Larrimore, this individual survived.  (Master Emergency Communication Officer Kathy Larrimore with Deputy Director of Emergency Communications Jackie Carroll and Director of Emergency Communications Julie McKercher)

Recognizing Emergency Communication Officer Diane Mason

Just two days later, on May 26, 2011, Senior Emergency Communication Officer Diane Mason answered a similar call from a visitor located on Jamestown Island.  He advised his wife had fallen unconscious and through pointed questioning by Mason, it was determined that she was not breathing.  Mason gave CPR directions to a bystander who relayed the information to the husband who provided CPR to his wife.  Mason counted out loud and had the caller do so as well while the husband gave chest compressions.  Like Larrimore’s call, this too was a conversion of a cardiac/respiratory arrest resulting in the survival of the gentleman’s wife. (Senior Emergency Communication Officer Diane Mason with Deputy Director of Emergency Communications Jackie Carroll and Director of Emergency Communications Julie McKercher)

These are two shining examples of how our Public Safety Emergency Communications Center operates as an integral role in the “EMS Chain of Survival” within James City County on a daily basis.  Both of these individuals have recently been added to “The Tree of Life” plaque displaying the name of the Public Safety Communication Officer and the date on which they “saved a life”.

Fairfax County 911

Recognizing PSC III Carolyn Kellam

While staffing the phones on July 12, 2011, PSC III Carolyn Kellam took a 911 call at approximately 1737 hours from a caller who reported that her 99 year old mother in law was choking on a piece of food.  PSC III Kellam quickly verified the address and entered the call for dispatch.  While reassuring the caller that help was on the way, PSC Kellam explained that she would be providing emergency medical instructions over the phone.  Frantic to help her mother-in-law, the caller stated that her husband was attempting to administer the Heimlich maneuver without success.  A true 911 professional, PSC III Kellam remained calm and composed while providing clear obstructed airway instructions, encouraging the caller and her husband to continue the Heimlich until responders arrived or the food was expelled.  Thankfully, PSC Kellam’s instructions and the callers’ efforts succeeded.  After the food was dislodged, the patient quickly regained normal breathing, as EMS units arrived on scene.  For her compassion, professionalism and exceptional implementation of EMD protocols, PSC III Kellam was awarded the DPSC Lifesaving Award.

From the 9-1-1 for Kids press release

Fairfax*On July 13, 2011, Fairfax County Public Safety Communicator Cheryl Dean received a 9-1-1 call from a 10-year-old girl.  The caller reported that her two-year-old cousin had stopped breathing.  The callers mother, who does not speak English, could be heard in the background trying to help comfort the little boy.  Although the caller was frightened, she provided Cheryl with her name, address, phone number, and exactly what the problem was. Cheryl asked the caller if she could relay CPR instructions to her mother.  The caller bravely took charge, translating from English to Spanish, and made sure that her mother followed every lifesaving instruction that was given.  Meanwhile, Cheryl was simultaneously ensuring that emergency medical service units were being dispatched to the callers home.  The 10 year old girl showed remarkable presence and composure.  Her actions and perseverance, all in the face of fear, demonstrated great courage and heroism. (* edited by author to remove callers name)

Recognizing the Fairfax County Department of Public Safety Communications

After seeing her mother fall down the stairs and suffer a head injury, eight-year-old Katie Lee called 911 for help. “I heard a fall and I was like, ‘Mommy, are you okay?’ And she was like, ‘I’m bleeding” said Katie, a second grader at Stratford Landing Elementary.

Katie recently learned how to call 911 when staff from the Fairfax County Department of Public Safety Communications 911 Center visited her school. The county’s 911 dispatchers spoke about the importance of children knowing their home address/location from where they’re calling, their phone number, their parents’ names, and to stay on the phone to answer questions from emergency dispatchers.

“It’s not often that we get a call from an 8-year-old, but Katie showed remarkable poise and composure for anyone — whatever their age,” said Steve Souder, director of the Department of Public Safety Communications. “Head injuries can be life threatening, and Katie definitely deserves to be called a lifesaver.”

Due to Katie’s lifesaving and heroic efforts, she was recently honored with the Fairfax County Department of Public Safety Communications, 911 Citizen Lifesaver Award. She is only the third person to receive this award, which was presented to her on Wednesday, June 6, 2012.

Check out these news links with coverage of this inspiring story: