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911 Dispatchers Help Deliver Babies...and CPR

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Sarah Pusateri, WUSF

Increasingly, 911 dispatchers don't just take your call for help. Now, most of them are trained to help keep you alive until first responders arrive.

They help pregnant mothers deliver children until EMS arrives on scene, and some even walk callers through the process of giving CPR.

And a well-trained 911 dispatcher can double or even triple the chances that someone stays alive until help gets there.

The level of training a dispatcher undergoes varies though, depending on the state and county they are in. In 2010, Florida passed a law requiring 911 dispatchers to have 232 hours of training.

All that training came in handy recently for Manatee County dispatcher Stacy Needham, when she walked a woman through giving CPR to her unconscious grandmother.

“She was very focused," Needham said. "She was on it. It was a really good call, all around."

She asked the woman a series of short questions and then they got to work -- counting together as the caller pumped her grandmother's chest.

"It's really hard to keep them calm and focused on what you need to do," she said.

Needham credits her training in CPR and a program Manatee County dispatchers use called Emergency Medical Dispatch. She says it gave her the skills and the confidence to walk a person through the steps they need to take to save someone's life.

"They literally tell you straight down the line exactly what to do when to do it,” Needham said.

“We have our timers for how many chest compressions and breathing. It's a really great piece of software to follow and it's helped many people."


Several other counties in Florida use the EMD system, including Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Sarasota and Polk.

The computer program prompts the dispatcher to ask a caller specific questions. Based on the answer, further instructions are given, until emergency personal arrive on scene.

"There are so many protocols, you really need to know what you're doing," Needham said.

When it comes to training its dispatchers, state EMS medical director Joe Nelson says Florida is ahead of the game.

"Florida is certainly in the first wave of mandating this training through a statute," Nelson said.

The research says this kind of training is crucial, according to Dr. Art Kellerman of Rand Health.

"You can literally double or triple a victims chances or surviving if you know and are willing to start CPR as quickly as possible," Kellerman said.

He says it’s not as tricky as it once was.

"We now know that in fact the most critical thing you can do is pump hard and pump fast,” he said.

“If you just pump, no mouth to mouth, no messing around with the victim's airway, If you simply put the victim on their back, put the heel of your hand on the center of their chest, and pump at a rate or 100 per minute."

That's the same rhythm of the Bee Gees song, Staying Alive.

"You will do a world of good for that patient and give them the best chance of survival," he said.

Sarah Pusateri is a former multimedia health policy reporter for Health News Florida, a project of WUSF. The Buffalo New York native most recently worked as a health reporter for Healthystate.org, a two year grant-funded project at WUSF. There, she co-produced an Emmy Award winning documentary called Uniform Betrayal: Rape in the Military.
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