Dispatchers The Lifeline Between Helpless, Helper

Workers Counsel And Calm Those In Distress

October 27, 1991|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff writer

Mark Hemler has a photograph of a 2-year-old Pylesville girl and a letter from her mother framed and hung on a wall of his Havre de Grace home.

Hemler helped save the girl's life last August when she stopped breathing during a seizure caused by high fever. Her mother, Mary Jane Dykes, wrote Hemler a letter thanking him for his help rescuing her daughter, Amy.

For Hemler, it was all in a day's work.

He is one of 20 dispatchers at the county Emergency Communications Center in Hickory. They serve as a lifeline between those who need help and those who provide it.

FOR THE RECORD - People appearing in two photographs in the Oct. 27 edition of The Harford County Sun last week were misidentified.
A dispatcher at the county Emergency Communications Centerwas misidentified in a photograph appearing with a story about the center.
The dispatcher should have been identified as Larry Slagle.
And, in a story about a sailplane club, a pilot should have been identified as Chris Cywinski.

Since the centerbegan using the 911 emergency telephone system in 1984, dispatchers have counseled on delivering babies, instructed callers how to resuscitate heart attack victims and talked the desperate out of committingsuicide.

"We're basically just doing our jobs," said the 30-year-old Hemler, a lieutenant at the communications center.

On Aug. 7, Hemler was working the day shift when Dykes dialed 911 to get help for her daughter, Amy. Nearly hysterical, Dykes reported the girl was suffering from a seizure and high fever.

Hemler, an emergency medical technician, calmed the woman as she waited 10 minutes for an ambulance from Fawn Grove, Pa., to reach her rural home. As they talked, the dispatcher noted the girl's symptoms so he could assist paramedicswith the information.

By the time the ambulance crew arrived, Hemler said, the toddler's seizures had ceased and her breathing returned to normal. The girl didn't require hospital treatment, although Dykes took her to a doctor.

"In the long run, we are all doing fine,"Dykes said in her letter to Hemler. "However, as I'm sure you know, those first few minutes are sheer agony.

"I feel that because of the excellent way in which the call was handled," she wrote, "I was able to give a clearer account of the episode to the paramedics and thephysician."

Hemler said the dispatcher's job has changed significantly since he joined the staff in 1984.

Technology, such as pagers and computers that automatically display a caller's telephone number, address, and the name of the person assigned the phone number, make it easier for dispatchers to get assistance to where it's needed, Hemler said.

Harford's dispatchers are busier than ever, serving five police agencies and 12 volunteer fire and ambulance companies in the county.

The center, which operates on a $1.4 million budget, handled 42,000 calls for police, fire and medical services in 1990, said center supervisor Larry A. Mabe. In 1985, 24,000 calls were handled.

The county recently hired three additional dispatchers, marking the center's first increase in personnel since 1984, Mabe said.

Training for the dispatchers has also changed. When Mabe joined the county as a dispatcher in 1981, he said he was given a 3-by-5 index cardthat listed guidelines for handling calls.

The dispatchers now receive a 2-inch-thick binder that outlines their duties, Mabe said. They also work with training officers and regularly attend training classes.

Hemler said the key to a dispatcher's job is to remain calm when taking emergency calls. Dispatchers can't allow themselves to become emotionally involved, he said.

That, as dispatcher Larry Slagle noted, can be difficult.

Slagle recalled the night of Dec.16, 1990, when Pylesville fireman Thomas E. Hicks was killed after the fire engine he was riding to a call crashed. The collision caused the vehicle to roll over, trapping Hicks under the vehicle.

The driver of the fire engine called 911, requesting an ambulance crew, a Medevacunit and a rescue squad to the accident scene. Slagle was at the center to take his call.

"It's bad any time there's an accident," said Slagle, whose been a county dispatcher since June 1990. "But when it's someone you know and work with, it's a different ballgame. It's alittle close to home."

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