An Incredible Experience
February 11, 2022
Dispatch in Action
EMD Jennifer Fretwell started work “on a clean plate” four years ago at Weld County Regional Communications Center (WCRCC), Greeley, Colorado, (USA).
The former restaurant server—no pun intended—had no experience with emergency dispatch and really didn’t know what to expect. She figured the restaurant experience would give her an upper hand in customer service.
“The restaurant business is all about learning to handle the different reactions of customers,” she said. “I talked to people all the time.”
Like waiting tables at the restaurant, Fretwell discovered emergency communications was a balancing act similar to restaurant work. A rush of diners demanded patience, focus, and the ability to appease irritable customers. Some patrons required more attention than others. A late seating or lingering guests extended her shift. She didn’t always know when the day would end or what to expect from the customers.
Emergency calls required the same ability to shift gears. Providing instructions to deliver a baby or chest compressions to someone experiencing out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest. Falls. Difficulty breathing. COVID. An emergency dispatcher never knows what the next call will bring.
A call near the end of one of Fretwell’s WCRCC shifts was the best reason ever to stay late. Although the patron required extra attention, no lingering was involved. There were no complications.
“The call went incredibly well,” said Fretwell of her first over-the-phone baby delivery. “We train all the time on the high-risk possibilities of childbirth. It could turn at any moment.”
The only turn in events was how quickly things happened. Fretwell said the caller—the woman in labor—was calm. She was home and she wasn’t alone. She was having contractions and said she’d rather have an ambulance arrive to assist than risk a drive to the hospital. “She wasn’t even convinced she wanted an ambulance,” Fretwell said.
Fretwell dispatched the ambulance. That’s when time—and the baby’s father—took control.
“All of a sudden the baby was out,” Fretwell said. “By the time the ambulance arrived, he had a string to tie off the umbilical cord. He was ready.”
Fretwell heard the baby boy cry, an incredible experience, she said, and a lovely sound she never expected to hear over the phone. A baby on the way call is not common, and full delivery seldom happens prior to a paramedic’s arrival and intervention. After the call, she sat back, elated to have helped bring a baby into the world. She phoned her mom, and her mom cried.
A call the next day was a sort of déjà vu. Fretwell answered to find a bystander reporting a woman on the verge of delivering her baby in a clothing store. Her water had broken. This time, paramedics arrived prior to Fretwell launching into the PAIs.
“No way, two days in a row,” Fretwell said. “I was really getting a run for my money the day before leaving on vacation.”
Fretwell was awarded a stork pin for the home delivery. She tucked the pin inside a journal so that she sees it every day. She received a certificate, and her name was inscribed on a leaf and added to the WCRCC Tree of Life.
Fretwell finds satisfaction in helping people behind the scenes. She couldn’t ask for a better place to work because of the supportive team and administration. The difference between her former job and emergency dispatch has put her life into perspective. She has learned to accept when outcomes aren’t as positive as the baby’s birth.
“I’m doing the best I can,” she said. “Things don’t always turn out the way I might hope, but I know I’m always prepared to help.”
WCRCC handles 911 calls, non-emergency calls, and dispatch services for 43 law enforcement, fire, and EMS agencies. In October 2016, WCRCC was re-accredited by the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch® (IAED™) as a medical Accredited Center of Excellence (ACE). It has since re-accredited.