A life-and-death call

Photo of Jennifer Brown and Shane Write, communications specialists.

Communications specialists Jennifer Brown and Shane Wright are shown in the dispatch center at the Idaho State EMS Communications Center.

Communication specialists Jennifer Brown and Shane Wright at the Idaho State EMS Communications Center were extremely busy one January morning as they managed the work associated with a major snow storm that snarled up traffic and made travel difficult around the state.

They were dispatching snowplows, deicers and sanding trucks statewide, as well as relaying reports of vehicle slide-offs and crashes to law enforcement. They also were getting ready to announce the closure of Idaho 21 in what’s commonly called “avalanche alley.”

But just then, an urgent call came in from the Elmore County Sheriff’s Office. It was an Emergency Medical Dispatch, which meant someone was having a medical emergency on the end of that call. State EMS communication specialists are trained to use predetermined medical protocols to dispatch correct resources to an emergency and to give medical instructions to victims and bystanders before first responders arrive and take over.

In spite of the fact that State EMS Communications Center doesn’t dispatch EMS in Elmore County, Shane took the information about the call from the Elmore County dispatcher. When the dispatcher attempted to transfer the call, it got dropped. Shane immediately called back the reporting party. Shane and the person on the phone worked together for 30 minutes as he gave CPR instructions to a woman who was choking, and then barely breathing.

“Most (98 percent) calls needing CPR instructions do not end with a patient breathing,” said Michele Carreras, manager of the Idaho State EMS Communications Center. “In this case, thank goodness, the patient was breathing when EMS arrived on scene.”

The other work managing the logistics of the snow storm did not stop while Shane was on the call with the choking woman. As soon as he was sure help had arrived, he ended that call and immediately switched his focus to the storm logistics and to helping Jennifer.

“He had a solid partner who was handling everything else going on,” Carreras said. “I’m so proud of both of them for their attitude and calmness under some pretty extreme pressure.”

This was a rare experience for Shane, and one that he will remember for a long time.

“You are always told your job can affect life and death, but it is not until there is a situation like this that it really sinks in,” Shane said recently. “In my seven-year career as a dispatcher, there have been many times that CPR instructions have been given, but never a surreal situation like this, where I got to hear the patient say a few words at the end.”

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