911 sees rise in medical calls

PARKERSBURG – The Wood County 911 Center saw an increase in the number of emergency medical dispatch in 2012.

The center received 188,756 telephone calls and dispatched 111,446 calls for service, said Director Randy Lowe. Among those, 77,326 were law enforcement-related calls compared to 77,332 the year before and emergency medical dispatch calls numbered 16,107 compared to 15,274 from the previous year.

The agency took 8,171 fire-related calls, 5,783 hang-up calls and 1,487 out-of-the-area calls.

All numbers are slightly up from 2011, except hang-ups which showed a small decrease, Lowe said. The difference between calls received and dispatched can be attributed to duplicate calls, public safety units calling in for specific information, personal calls, and out-of-area calls. Out-of-area calls are attributed to wireless phones hitting a wireless tower pointed toward Wood County but the caller is not in Wood County, he said.

“The increased numbers of emergency medical calls might be due, at least in some degree, to the storms that passed through the area this summer,” Lowe said, referring to the June derecho which caused extensive damage in the area.

A majority of the calls for the fire departments are first responder emergency medical service calls, Lowe said.

Ahead of many other centers and prior to the passage of legislation requiring EMD certification, the local 911 center has been emergency medical dispatch certified for seven years.

The West Virginia Legislature passed a bill in June 2011 which mandated all 911 dispatchers in West Virginia receive emergency medical dispatch training, allowing them to provide medical assistance and give medical instructions over the phone. With the bill’s passage, West Virginia became the 15th state to require the training.

“This system was already in place when I came on board back in 2005,” Lowe said. “At the time, it was not a requirement. I commend those involved for putting it in place here before it was mandated. We were already certified and in fact, we have two certified trainers on staff, Sara Stalnaker and Doug Moore, who train other dispatchers and our new dispatchers on EMD protocol and procedures,” he said.

It has been a benefit to the community, Lowe said. Dispatchers with emergency medical dispatch training can assist with medical emergencies of all kinds, from administering first aid to assistance in delivering a baby, while the callers wait for an ambulance to arrive.

“We had one instance where a dispatcher talked a grandmother through the process of dislodging something from her infant grandchild’s throat,” Lowe said.

The dispatchers obtain information on the emergency, give pre-arrival instructions and pass needed information to Emergency Medical Services.

The training becomes more significant when the medical emergency is life-threatening, like a choking baby, heart attack or someone who has stopped breathing, Lowe said.

“In the last eight years we have had a number of cases, including this fall a baby was delivered before EMS arrived,” he said.

On many calls the dispatchers never know the outcome after they hang up, Lowe said.

“But with the medical dispatch calls, we are actually helping, giving instructions, finding out their problem. It may be helping with CPR or whatever, those are cases that we actually know the outcome, some positive, sometimes negative. But that gives them a chance to help someone directly, so I think it does give them some satisfaction,” Lowe said.

Jason Kuhl, a former Parkersburg firefighter, is a dispatcher at the 911 center.

“If you get someone calling about an individual who is not breathing, needs CPR, it does raise the level of your stress, you only have a few minutes to get them the information to help them,” Kuhl said. “Sometimes it is satisfying to know the outcome, it’s a great relief to know. There are times when we have no idea, and we sit here and wonder how the patient is doing.”

The emergency medical dispatch program was designed and coordinated with a doctor, said Jody Purkey, an eight-year veteran dispatcher.

“I remember one call where a 2-year-old had his hand stuck in a can. The lid had been partially cut open, but not all the way around and he got his hand stuck inside it and was apparently bleeding badly. The child was screaming at the top of his lungs while I was trying to talk to the mom,” Purkey said. “I was able to instruct her on how to release the lid and get the child’s hand out. People are understandably hysterical when they see loved ones, family members laying on the floor not breathing, people just panic.”