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New dispatch system ‘delivers’
911 workers help callers save one baby, deliver another
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Martinsville-Henry County E911 Communications Center dispatcher Susan Parnell sits at her work station, where she talked a caller through delivering a baby while an ambulance was en route. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Dispatchers responding to emergency calls in the Martinsville-Henry County E911 Communications Center rarely experience a dull moment, whether they are helping deliver one baby or helping save another.

“Y’all please send an ambulance. My sister’s having a baby,” one frantic caller, later identified as Latitia Little, recently told dispatcher Susan Parnell.

Little said her pregnant sister, Lakia Little, had been to a hospital. “They sent her back home, but she’s about to have a baby now,” she told the dispatcher.

“Stay on the phone with me, OK? I might have to help you with childbirth,” Parnell calmly told Little.

“Oh no,” Little responded.

After summoning an ambulance, Parnell directed Little to “listen carefully. I’ll tell you what to do. ... Are her contractions two minutes apart?”

From that point, exchanges between Parnell and Little are even more dramatic until Little is heard almost screaming. “The baby is out. The baby’s head is out. ... Is the baby going to be okay?” she asked as crying is heard in the background.

“As long as it’s crying, it’s doing great,” Parnell said. “... The ambulance is on the way.”

Little now is the proud aunt of Laila Little, the niece she delivered June 6.

“She is just my little precious angel. I love her to death, and she favors me a lot,” Little said. “She’s a bundle of joy, but it was an experience. I had no experience in doing that. I know I was nervous. I was scared. I ain’t never done that before.”

And without Parnell’s help, “I don’t know what I would have did. I really didn’t know what to do,” Little said.

Parnell and other dispatchers in the 911 center essentially became first responders last fall when the area’s new Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) service — to process emergency calls and give pre-arrival instructions — was implemented.

Since then, whenever a medical call is received, dispatchers ask a series of questions to determine the main complaint, the urgency of the case and other factors. A computer then uses that information to assign a level of priority from 1 to 3, with Level 1 calls — such as Little’s — being the highest level and requiring the most urgent care. Advanced life support (ALS) personnel are required to go on those calls, while Level 2 indicates that basic life support (BLS) is needed. Level 3 calls are considered the least urgent situations, and a BLS standard rescue crew is assigned to those calls.

After assigning a priority level, the computer provides dispatchers with medically approved instructions to relay to callers in the most urgent situations, such as childbirth, CPR and choking.

The EMD system “basically allows dispatchers to become first responders by providing pre-arrival medical instructions,” according to J.R. Powell, the center’s director.

Pre-arrival instructions can be life-saving, he said, and added the human brain begins to die after five minutes without oxygen.

Tasha Newberry was babysitting an infant when she called 911 and told Parnell that the baby “can’t seem to take a breath. I don’t know what to do for him.”

“Stay on the line with me,” Parnell told Newberry.

“He’s about to pass out. He’s not breathing,” Newberry said. As she waited on the line for Parnell to summon an ambulance, Newberry said, “hey baby ... hey baby ... wake up.”

Back on the line, Parnell gave Newberry instructions on how to perform CPR. After Newberry worked on the baby for several minutes according to Parnell’s instructions, the dispatcher asked, “is he trying to cry?”

“Yes,” Newberry responded. The relief was apparent in her voice.

“Let’s keep doing it then. ... You’re doing a great job. Great job,” Parnell said.

In retrospect, Newberry said Parnell “was really nice. She told me what to do and walked me through the steps, but it took a really long time” for the ambulance to arrive at the home in Bassett. “It took 15 minutes” for the ambulance to arrive after she made the 911 call.

Powell said that was because the Bassett crew was tied up on another call, and career staff from Henry County responded to the call from Martinsville.

“It did take them about 14 minutes” to arrive at the scene, and Parnell stayed on the phone with Newberry “the entire time,” Powell said.

The baby was “all of 6 weeks old,” Newberry said, and “he had actually just got choked on some milk.”

She credits the dispatcher with saving the infant’s life.

“I don’t want to think about what would have happened” if not for Parnell, Newberry said. “I know she (Parnell) did” save his life. “I really was grateful that she helped me through that. If not, as long as it took them to get there, there might have been a different outcome.”


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