Behind the scenes 9-1-1

From a dispatcher to an emergency department
Posted at 8:02 AM, Feb 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-24 10:03:59-05

Within two rings an Ada County dispatcher answers a 9-1-1 call.

"9-1-1 emergency," answers Katherine Waggoner, Ada County Dispatcher. "It's going to be a priority three."

Dispatchers use a protocol outlining exactly what to say and ask to get the most important information.

Help is on the way as soon as they have an address and a phone number. 

"Once this (screen) starts blinking, it tells them their response, how quickly they need to go, so that will also pop up on their screen," Waggoner says.

Even with emergency responders en route, the dispatchers work isn't done.

"If we can keep the person on the phone, we do, especially if it's someone who is working on someone or giving those or were giving pre-arrival instructions like controlling, CPR," Waggoner says. 

Or instructing a father how to deliver a baby in a Starbucks parking lot. 

"He was trying to get her to the hospital and she said she started complaining of pressure and so he just pulled over to check."  

Katherine was only on the phone with him for a few minutes before firefighters arrived, but she knew exactly what to do. 

"We go through all the different training."

Waggoner calls it one of the best experiences she has had as a dispatcher. 

"It was great, it was cute you know, the firefighters reached out to me after and they let me know hey, moms fine, baby's fine, dad did everything great."

A dispatcher never knows what the next call will bring.

"Every single day is different. You know there's no, there's no day that repeats itself," Waggoner says. 

That's also the case for Ada County Paramedics. 

"We're alerted to an emergency 9-1-1 call by our radio making that sound right there" says Battalion Chief Bart Buckendorf of the Ada County Paramedics as his radio alert goes off

The address of the emergency comes up on the computer in their vehicle and then they punch it into to their GPS. 

"I go out to any extrication calls, calls where there's multiple patients. Any call where they're doing CPR," said Battalion Chief Buckendorf says.

And not every call involves those familiar lights and siren.

"So we may go to a call with our lights and sirens or we may just go with the general flow of traffic and with the general flow of traffic, we can also turn on what's called an opticom which turns the lights green for us," explains Battalion Chief Buckendorf

Ada County Paramedics are limited to driving 15 miles an hour above the speed limit and a top speed of 80 on the freeway.

"And that gets us to the call quicker without having to run the lights and siren and make people pull over because that's a little bit dangerous to do that," Battalion Chief Buckendorf says

As a patient is transported, emergency responders are already communicating with the hospital. 

"We know before the patient ever arrives, so we can mobilize the troops and have them here to meet the patient when they come through the door," says Dr. Bill Morgan, Saint Alphonsus Trauma Service Medical Director

A patient is given a priority on a scale from one to three with one being the most serious. 

"Priority ones, the trauma surgeon has to be there when they arrive," Dr. Morgan explains.  

"Paramedics have gotten really good at it, so they actually triage them in the field based on those priorities," says Dr. Morgan. 

An example of how all of them work together in an emergency. 

"They see things at the scene I will never get to see," Dr. Morgan says.

"The whole process is very important and it all works very well I think," says Battalion Chief Buckendorf

In 2016, Ada County Paramedics responded to approximately 28,000 medical calls generated through the 911 system which is about a 15 percent increase from 2015. 

Ada County Paramedics say only about 66 percent of those patients were transported to the emergency department. The others were treated on scene, it was canceled, or they refused to be treated. Out of the 66 percent that were transported at all, only five percent were transported with lights and siren.