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In times of crisis, dispatchers provide a calm voice

Aug 17 2012
Melanie Karalis of the Times Colonist participates in the B.C. Ambulance simulation with Jonathan Slattery on Thursday. 

Melanie Karalis of the Times Colonist participates in the B.C. Ambulance simulation with Jonathan Slattery on Thursday.

Photograph by: Lyle Stafford , timescolonist.com (August 2012)

A five-year-old girl being hailed as a hero for calling 911 to help her ailing mom this week asked the dispatcher if help was coming - a key reassurance that dispatchers need to relay in a crisis.

Dispatcher also need to take control of the situation, says Jonathan Slattery, a dispatcher quality improvement supervisor with B.C. Ambulance Services.

"The caller needs to know the dispatcher will tell them what to do."

Slattery sits beside reporters as they take part in a condensed training exercise that emergency medical dispatchers usually learn in three weeks.

The training room in Central Saanich is lined with computers, all equipped with the assessment program, ProQA.

As Corinne Begg, provincial dispatch training officer, describes a fake scenario involving a 78-year-old man, reporterdispatchers enter the information.

After "collapsed" and "not breathing" are typed in, the program displays a prompt to tell the caller to perform CPR. A ticker on the screen helps emergency medical dispatchers keep the pace for the caller.

But it's not just CPR. The program can help dispatchers walk callers through childbirth if needed - which happened in October 2011, when a Crofton woman unexpectedly went into labour. Emergency dispatchers were able to help her friend deliver the baby.

As the script emergency dispatchers use was designed by doctors and paramedics, Slattery says it's important for dispatchers to stay on course.

"People tend to make minor word changes that can alter the meaning or the intent of it," he says. "A simple word can change the meaning entirely."

The difference between telling callers, "Tell me exactly what happened," and asking callers, "Can you tell me exactly what happened?" is small but Slattery says dispatchers need to stay in control of the conversation.

In his 12 years as an emergency dispatcher, Slattery says he's heard it all.

"We get calls ranging from 'My eyes are watering too much' to 'I'm depressed and have a gun,' " he says.

"The variety is so massive, you don't want to downplay that person [whose] eyes are watering too much." mkaralis@timescolonist.com

mkaralis@timescolonist.com

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