Dispatcher delivers life-saving directives

February 22, 1993|By Michael Ollove | Michael Ollove,Staff Writer

A Baltimore City Fire Department dispatcher may have saved the lives of twin infants yesterday when he instructed their mother in emergency techniques to start the children breathing again.

"We're crediting our dispatcher with probably saving these kids' lives," said Capt. Hector Torres, a Fire Department spokesman.

The twins, 6-month-old Todd and Brandon Blair of the 2800 block of Hamilton Avenue, were breathing when an ambulance arrived. The children were listed in critical condition last night in the Johns Hopkins Hospital's intensive care unit.

The episode began shortly after noon yesterday when dispatcher Donald Crusse received a call from a distraught Kim Panufka.

"My babies aren't breathing," she said, according to a tape of her call. "I have twins in a crib wrapped in a blanket. Neither one of them's breathing."

Mr. Crusse, who works in an operations room at Fire Department headquarters in downtown Baltimore, immediately dispatched a fire truck and ambulance to the house in Northeast Baltimore. Then, when he got back on the line with Ms. Panufka, he began giving her instructions, which she relayed to the boys' father, George Blair, and the boys' grandparents.

Mr. Crusse has had emergency medical training, though it is not required for his job. "Normally, I won't do this, but she seemed calm enough, and she didn't seem to want me to get off the phone."

He told Ms. Panufka to have the boys picked up and their heads tilted back to open an air passage. Within moments, she reported that one of the boys was breathing again. Mr. Crusse said to rub the other boy's chest. Soon after, Ms. Panufka reported that he was breathing as well.

"OK, you settle down now," Mr. Crusse advised her.

Within five minutes of Ms. Panufka's call, paramedics arrived.

It was not clear why the boys, who were born two months premature, apparently stopped breathing.

Terri Martin, the grandmother, said Ms. Panufka had gone to the boys' room to wake them for lunch when she discovered they weren't breathing. "We don't know what happened," she said. "It seems like quite a coincidence that it happened to both of them. I had the electric company come out here and check, and they said absolutely it wasn't a [gas] leak."

As for Mr. Crusse, 34, he continued an 11-hour work shift until close to 6 p.m., taking dozens more calls.

A dispatcher for nearly four years, he said that he has twice before tried to talk callers through emergency techniques. One time, he said, he managed to help get an asthmatic baby to start breathing again. On the other occasion, an elderly man did not pull through, he said.

Yesterday, Mr. Crusse said he felt embarrassed by the attention to his role. "It's rewarding when things work out," he said, "but it is all part of the job."

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