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New 911 service to boost medical help for callers
J.R. Powell, director of the Martinsville-Henry County 911 Center, shows the new Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) software that will go into effect Tuesday. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
Sunday, September 30, 2012
By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Dispatchers in the Martinsville-Henry County E911 Communications Center will become first responders this week when a new Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) service is implemented.
J.R. Powell, director of the communications center, said the new system of processing emergency calls and giving pre-arrival instructions will begin Tuesday.
He explained that all callers to the 911 center are asked basic questions that include their name, type of emergency, telephone number and address.
Now, when a call is medical in nature, dispatchers will have pre-established, medically approved questions for the callers, Powell said.
Their answers to those questions will be used to determine the chief complaint, the urgency of the problem and other factors, he said. A computer then will assign a priority level between 1 and 3 to the call.
Priority 1 calls are the highest level and require the most urgent care. Advanced life support (ALS) personnel are required to go on those calls, Powell said. Level 2 indicates that BLS or basic life support is needed. Level 3, for the least urgent situations, requires BLS standard rescue crews, he said.
Rescue squads will respond to all calls at all levels as they have been.
The computer system also will use the answers to give dispatchers medically approved instructions to relay to callers, Powell said.
“It basically allows dispatchers to become first responders by providing pre-arrival medical instructions,” Powell said. Those instructions can be lifesaving, he said, and noted that the human brain begins to die after five minutes without oxygen.
“Five minutes is not long when a loved one has collapsed,” is choking or is not breathing, he said. That is why it is important for dispatchers to provide scripted pre-arrival instructions to the caller.
Pre-arrival instructions also will be provided in other instances, such as childbirth, CPR, choking and a number of others, Powell said.
Both city and county medical directors read all of the test questions, pre-arrival instructions and other related materials and approved them, Powell said.
The 22 dispatchers were required to undergo 32 hours of training and pass tests for certification, Powell said. The remaining two dispatchers took their final tests on Thursday, and both now are certified, he added.
“I’m really proud of all our staff. I had complete confidence in them, and they all made it through,” he said.
Dispatchers also are required to successfully undergo a recertification process every two years, Powell said. Passing it “is part of their requirements for maintaining their employment here.”
When Powell began his employment at the 911 Center in 1995, he said dispatchers had a series of flip cards to provide the same pre-arrival instructions as the computerized version. But there was no local funding to fully implement it.
Since then, it has been discussed periodically, but the lack of funds to implement the service remained an issue, he said.
In 2010, the 911 Center applied for a grant through the Virginia Office of EMS — Rescue Squad Association Fund — to implement the service, Powell said.
The center was awarded 80 percent, or $74,573.33, of the cost to buy the software and new guidecards (in case the computer system goes down) and train the dispatchers, he said.
“This is the culmination of several years of hard work,” Powell said of the service that will begin at 7 a.m. Tuesday. “We’re all really excited about it. This is a big step.”