What Happens When You Call 9-1-1? – Barbara J. Murphy, RN

911Angela (not her real name) winced as she reached for the file folder on the shelf above her desk. The nagging ache between her shoulder blades had caused her to toss and turn all night and now was starting to bother her again. As an active 57 year old executive she was accustomed to hard work, but the last few nights ‘ sleep disturbances were causing her to wonder if she was contracting the latest “bug.” It had been going around the office. She had dismissed her frequent bouts with indigestion to the same reasoning.

When she slumped in her chair at her desk, Angela’s office mates clustered around to offer assistance. Her pale face and heavy breathing alarmed everyone. A quick call to 911 was the immediate reaction of her co-workers.
Most people will call 911only once or twice during their lifetimes. Neither Angela, nor her coworkers were aware that as part of the Loudoun County system, a well-oiled process of activity was generated by that single 911 call. Patti Turner, Manager of the Emergency Communications Center for Loudoun County Fire Rescue states, “Loudoun County’s enhanced 911system is common to Northern Virginia, but what is unique is our recent accreditation by the Virginia Office of Emergency Services. The accreditation requires study, determination and strict adherence to protocols and procedures. We are very proud of the recognition for this award”

Any distress call to 911in Loudoun County is answered by a Call Taker, who will direct the call to the proper area: Fire, Rescue or Police. The Call Taker’s job is complex including calming a frequently anxious and excited individual, as well as determining the nature and severity of the incident. Based on a series of tried and tested guidelines, the Call Taker sends a signal to activate the nearest Ambulance (EMT and driver) or Medic (Paramedic and EMT driver) unit as required by the call. He/she then continues to gather vital information to assist the units dispatched.

Fire and Rescue stations are located strategically throughout the County and dispatched accordingly. For instance, a medic unit may be needed in Ashburn, but all the medic units there might already be busy. In that case, a medic from a neighboring area would be sent as well as an Ambulance and First Responders on a Fire Engine from the Ashburn area. The average response time County-wide is an incredible 1.02 minutes!

Angela’s colleagues were understandably alarmed, but still able to avoid panic and make the process run smoothly. They used an office phone to place the call and provided accurate information about their location. Although 80% of the 911 calls come from cell phones, there is a danger as to which tower might pick up the signal. A recent 911 cell phone call placed in Lansdowne bounced into Montgomery County! Angela’s co-workers also listened to the helpful instructions provided by the dispatcher, answered the seemingly endless questions, and were able to offer basic first aid measures to help Angela. Dispatch instructions helped her colleagues determine, Angela had fainted, but did have a pulse and was breathing. She was now able to sit up and talk. Per the dispatcher’s instruction Angela was given four baby aspirins. This key part of a cardiac protocol is why the dispatch team is considered the “First” of the first responders. Someone was sent outside to wait for Emergency Services to arrive in order to direct them to Angela’s location in her office building.

The Medics quickly arrived by her side, administered high flow oxygen, start an intravenous line and used available technology to obtain an Electrocardiogram reading (EKG) on the scene. After being transported to the nearest hospital Emergency Department, Angela was diagnosed as having had a heart attack. Her doctors credit her speedy recovery to proper prehospital care and the use of the 911system.

If you ever have any of the symptoms that Angela experienced do not wait. Do not hesitate. Call 9-1-1 immediately. Your life may depend on it.

– Barbara J. Murphy, RN, MN, EMT-B

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