For 911 dispatcher, life-or-death is another day...
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Feb 03, 2016  |  Vote 0    0

For 911 dispatcher, life-or-death is another day on the job

Lorna Kelly made the news in early January for being the voice on the other side of a call, but it’s not the first time

OurWindsor.Ca

When Lorna Kelly picks up the phone at work, she’s almost guaranteed to be dealing with a life at stake.

Sometimes the person on the other end is dying. Sometimes someone nearby is. Sometimes the caller is in a car with a pregnant spouse, who won’t make it to the hospital in time.

Kelly has been an emergency dispatcher for Toronto Paramedic Services for 11 years. Before that, she did the job for other paramedic services in Ontario. She got her first job, in Oshawa, after applying to a newspaper ad on a whim.

As a dispatcher, Kelly’s job is two-fold: she receives 911 calls and takes as much information from the caller as she can, but is also in charge of sending out the closest emergency responder.

Many people who call her don’t understand how the two are related and don’t understand why she’s asking so many questions. Even basic questions such as the location can be hard to draw out of distraught callers, she said.

“We need to know where that person is... so we can get the help started to you right away,” she said.

Kelly has fielded calls from many high-profile shootings or crimes that end up in the news, though she won’t say which ones exactly. Those calls can be hard to deal with, she admitted.

“There’s some days, mind you, we do go home and feel overwhelmed,” she said.

For support, Kelly will turn to her fiancé, also a dispatcher, and other co-workers.

“When you do have a bad call, you’ve usually got two or three people that are right there to say, ‘Everything good? You OK? Do you need a break?’” she said.

There are also the good calls, like the baby born in the backseat. That particular call in early January got her into the news, which has happened a few times over the years.

Kelly thinks she’s helped four or five mothers through childbirth when they couldn’t reach the hospital, though those births usually happen at home, not in cars, she said.

“After 11 years, you just kind of do it, but at first it was like, ‘Oh wow, I delivered a baby!’” she said.

Kelly said she may not remember many of the calls she’s taken, but what she does remember are the children who call 911.

“They can be pretty tough, but at the same time... they’re sometimes your best person to have at the other end of the line because they tell you exactly what you ask them,” she said.

Children tend to be, perhaps counter-intuitively, less emotional when calling 911 than adults, who will often forget to answer basic questions, such as where they are, because they are panicking.

“You’ve got to try to get them calmed down before you can even get to the first question. A child is usually the first one to tell you where [they are],” she said.

Her most vivid call was like that. In July 2006, 11-year-old Godfrey Wignarajah witnessed his grandfather going into cardiac arrest. Godfrey’s parents weren’t at home, so he called 911 and reached Kelly. She coached him through first aid, from putting his grandfather on his back to giving him chest compressions. When the paramedics arrived, she stayed with him and made him go to his room so he wouldn’t have to witness any more than he already had.

Godfrey’s efforts weren’t enough to save his grandfather, unfortunately, but Kelly said Godfrey did everything perfectly.

“He followed every step of the way… as bad as the call was for Godfrey, it turned out he was probably one of the best callers,” she said.

Kelly recommended Godfrey for the Toronto Emergency Medical Services Citizen’s Award for his bravery. When he received it a month later, the two met.

Like the baby born in the car, Kelly received a lot of media attention for Godfrey’s call. Being thrust into the limelight occasionally isn’t a big bother for Kelly. She considers it part of the job and thinks it’s good that people are sometimes reminded about the work of dispatchers.

“I think if it helps the rest of us here in getting the recognition that sometimes we miss out on, it’s a really good thing,” she said.

Toronto Star

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