Everyday Extraordinary: Behind-the-scenes Stories of 911 Heroes

Whether we toil away the day behind a desk or retail counter, we all perform a service for others. Our work has some purpose. But how many of us can say that we truly make a difference in the lives of others, in the same way as public safety telecommunicators?

As the administrator of NICE’s PSAPs’ Finest Award program (a Public Safety recognition program for telecommunicators and others involved in emergency communications), I'm reminded of this every year when I read the annual PSAPs’ Finest nominations. Every nomination is compelling, but sadly, only a handful of these everyday heroes can be selected by the judges for the top prize.

So here I’d like to share a few of the stories of those who didn’t make the final cut, but none-the-less did make a huge difference in peoples’ lives.

First up, there’s the story of Sarah Arrants, a 911 Dispatcher for the Grand Junction Regional Communication Center in Grand Junction, CO. Sarah had been a dispatcher for the Grand Junction Regional Communications Center for four years, when on March 9, 2012 she took a 911 call from an employee of a liquor store calling to report an armed robbery. Sarah obtained the description of the suspect, carefully noting that he was wearing a red hooded sweatshirt and had stitches on the side of his face.

Sarah quickly realized that a call she had taken less than an hour before involved a man matching the same description. In that earlier call, a woman (asking for more information about an assault case) had noted that her brother had stitches on his face. Sarah quickly put two and two together. She immediately called the woman back to confirm whether the woman’s brother was also wearing a red hooded sweatshirt. He was.

As it turned out, the woman and her family (including four children) were staying at a hotel just two blocks from the liquor store, and the suspect (who had just returned) was in the bathroom. Sarah convinced the woman to quickly and discreetly leave the hotel. After the woman and children were safely out, officers converged on the scene. And​ after a brief standoff, the suspect was safely taken into custody. Because of her quick thinking, Sarah was able to prevent a potential hostage situation.

It’s not uncommon for 911 centers to nominate multiple telecommunicators for a PSAPs’ Finest Award. In 2012, the story of Brianne Jacobsen, another 911 Dispatcher from the Grand Junction Regional Communication Center came to my attention as well. In November 2012, Brianne took a call from a 6-year old boy whose diabetic mother was unresponsive. The boy, who had dialed 911 from a cell phone, was frightened and didn’t know his address. Brianne used her resources and managed to locate the address. She kept the child calm while relaying necessary information to the paramedics who were on route. Brianne also gave the child instructions to maintain his mother’s airway. It was later learned the mother had experienced an insulin reaction. Brianne’s quick actions were credited for saving the mother's life.

One last story I’d like to share is that of Rick Hammond, a telecommunicator with Dane County (Madison, WI) Public Safety Communications. Dane County Support Services Manager Paul Logan, who nominated Rick for the award, said: “It is rare, but wonderful when a telecommunicator has the chance to dramatically impact someone’s life in a positive way, like saving a life, but it’s incredible to have that opportunity twice in 30 days.”

On August 31, 2012 Rick answered a 911 call from a distraught man whose wife had had an apparent cardiac arrest. Rick followed his training, calmed the caller, and utilized emergency medical dispatch (EMD) protocols to provide CPR instructions until EMS arrived. Thanks to Rick’s quick actions, a few weeks later, the woman was able to make a full recovery.

On September 30, 2012 Rick answered another 911 call, this time from a young girl whose 69-year old grandfather had fallen and was in cardiac arrest. Despite having the phone passed from one anxious family member to another, Rick was steadfast in following the EMD protocols. He gave CPR instructions for more than 7 minutes until EMS arrived. Again, thanks to Rick’s persistence and professionalism, the patient not only survived the ordeal but was discharged from the hospital five days later.

While these stories may seem extraordinary to those of us who spend our days working behind desks and counters, they are typical of the everyday work that goes on in 911.

Over the years, I've felt fortunate that my job has brought me closer to these everyday heroes who not only aspire to, but actually do make such a huge difference in peoples’ lives.


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