911 call now comes with life-saving help

Published 7:50 am Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Telecommunicators at the Farmville Emergency Communications Center are now able to provide 911 callers with pre-arrival instructions such as how to control bleeding, perform CPR or even assist in childbirth.

According to Jackie Gilbert, emergency communications manager at the center, each dispatcher is now certified in emergency medical dispatch — a process which allows telecommunicators to provide those who dial 911 with instructions on how to respond to a medical emergency before first responders arrive.

In a Monday, July 12, interview, Gilbert highlighted the center began offering emergency medical dispatch services May 19.

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When performing the dispatch services, dispatchers use a software provided by public safety  technology company PowerPhone. When responding to a medical emergency call, telecommunicators categorize the emergency in the software. PowerPhone then provides the dispatcher with a series of questions. Based off the caller’s answers, the program then produces a situation-specific script employees can use to instruct the caller on how to respond to the situation.

After completing a 24-hour emergency medical dispatch certification course and becoming certified in adult, child and infant CPR, dispatchers can now instruct callers on how to provide medical assistance in a variety of emergencies, including incidents such as allergy attacks, diabetic emergencies, strokes, heart attacks and more. They can also help a caller to deliver a baby in the event a woman in labor cannot reach the hospital in time.

According to Gilbert, the Emergency Communications Center answers 911 calls for the Town of Farmville as well as Prince Edward County. When members of the public dial 911, telecommunicators answer the call, take down the needed information and dispatch the appropriate agency or agencies, including the Farmville, Longwood and Hampden-Sydney police department, all seven county fire departments and two rescue squads.

When fully staffed, the center has 18 full-time and three part-time employees who work 12-hour shifts responding to emergency calls. The center sees an average of 25 calls per day, and between three and four dispatchers are stationed at a console at any time. The center also answers non-emergency calls and text-to-911 services.

Gilbert emphasized that while the new emergency medical dispatch abilities mean callers may receive more questions when they dial 911 for a medical emergency, it will not impact the speed at which first responders are dispatched.

For citizens, especially callers who live in remote areas of the county, these over-the-phone medical instructions could make a lifesaving difference.

“Emergency medical dispatch is so important simply because it’s going to provide the help before rescue can arrive,” she said.

Gilbert noted minutes can feel like hours for 911 callers dealing with a medical emergency. She asks citizens to make themselves familiar with the medical history of family members in order to provide better response during an emergency and remember to remain patient and calm while on an emergency call.

“These questions that we ask are for a reason, and it’s to better help them,” she said.