‘Unsung’ 9-1-1 dispatchers called forward

When someone with an emergency calls 9-1-1, the voice that answers probably won’t ever make the news. In the south King County area, that voice often belongs to one of the call receivers at Valley Communications.

  • Wednesday, May 14, 2008 12:00am
  • News

Two honored for their handling of emergency calls

When someone with an emergency calls 9-1-1, the voice that answers probably won’t ever make the news. In the south King County area, that voice often belongs to one of the call receivers at Valley Communications.

“These are kind of the unsung heroes in the emergency response process,” said Steve Reinke, director of Valley Communications, the Kent-based agency whose service area includes Maple Valley Fire and Life/Fire District 43, the city of Black Diamond, Mountain View Fire and Rescue/District 44 and Fire District 47 in the Ravensdale area. “And it’s a difficult job. It requires a very bright person that can handle a lot of different things at once, process all the information, keep the folks in the field updated and help the callers, who are often in a very excited state.”

Two of Valley Comm’s call-handlers, Roseann Mills and Don Pederson, were honored April 16 as King County’s Emergency Medical Dispatchers of the Year.

“I thought it would be interesting work, and it certainly is,” said Mills, 31, who’s been with Valley Comm since 1998. “I take it as just doing my job to the highest standards possible, just helping the public and giving 100 percent for every caller.”

When a call comes in, Mills must first determine if the situation is an emergency or not, not an easy task when the caller is in a stressful situation, she said. She then collects as much information as possible from the caller, passing it along to other dispatchers to keep emergency units updated as they head to the scene.

“It goes very fast, and if someone is unconscious and needs CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation) right away, that’s our job to open the manual and start giving (the callers) instructions on how to do that,” Mills said. “We’re just trying to help in those few minutes before the aid gets there.”

Those few minutes are often the difference between life and death, and Mills has been the voice in a caller’s ear directing life-saving techniques on multiple occasions. She has received awards from within Valley Communications for helping start CPR in dire situations.

“A lot of the time we don’t hear whether somebody survived after the call or not,” she said. “I would like to know whether they pulled through and went on to live a healthy, happy life.”

Mills said she’s thankful for the Dispatcher of the Year recognition, “but there are so many people in this line of work that do the same thing I do every day that don’t ever get to hear a thank you. I really think they’re all doing a great job.”

Pederson is one of them. On April 10, 2007, a call came in from Federal Way that a 5-year-old boy, playing with a lighter, had caught his clothes on fire.

A frantic mother was on the line with Pederson. The third-degree burns over a third of her son’s body meant that the skin on his stomach, back and arm was peeling off.

“It was pretty bad,” Pederson said. He remembers the call, a year later, as “so intense.” His handling of the incident was cited in connection with his county dispatcher award.

Pederson, a dispatcher for seven years, said “the big thing was getting the mom calmed down.”

But he also had to convince her not to put her son in cold bath water, because the child could have gone into shock or been infected with bacteria in the bathroom. “That could be deadly” with such critical burns, he recalled.

He said medics told him the boy would probably be fine because of the instructions he gave to the mom. The child was taken to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle for treatment.

Pederson said dispatchers receive continuing education to deal with medical emergencies, natural disasters and other emergencies.

The dispatcher awards are given during National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week to recognize expert responses to critical incidents.

Valley Communications provides police, fire and medical dispatching in the south King County area. It managed approximately 57,000 emergency medical calls in 2007.


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