For Crying Out Loud

Audrey Fraizer

Audrey Fraizer

Your Space

Audrey Fraizer

EMD-Q® Tammy Black might be considered lucky having delivered five babies over the phone on five separate occasions.

“Yes, it’s thrilling,” said Black, Lead System Status Controller, Medical Transportation Coordination Centre (MTCC), Manitoba, Canada. “People generally don’t call for help at the best moments of their life, so it’s a good moment when the call is about helping to deliver a baby.”

But it’s not always so easy.

MTCC went live with the Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS®) in September 2006—at the same time MTCC opened—and Black answered MTCC’s first imminent arrival call in February 2007. Black readily recalls how she felt at the time.

“It was nerve-wracking,” she said.

Mom delivered the baby in the bathtub and dad, who diligently followed the PAIs over the phone, stayed on the highest level of alert and empathy.

“He kept apologizing to his wife for the pain, and she kept telling him not to worry,” she said. “But he listened to the instructions, and everything went very well.”

The call was also a teaching moment for the two paramedics standing behind Black during the call. Showing others in EMS how dispatch works is a major benefit (right up there with helping people and coordinating resources), Black said, along with working as part of MTCC’s “phenomenal” team.

In other words, the dedication and enthusiasm Black has for emergency dispatching resonates through her voice. She truly likes the ability to do whatever she can do for both callers and responders, and that goes for a recent baby call when she convinced the driver to pull over rather than continue to the hospital.

“He thought he could make it to the hospital and just wanted us to call the hospital to make sure they were ready for them,” she said. “He didn’t know the baby was crowning. He did pull over, and within minutes of stopping the baby was born.”

Black’s background in health care and special needs education contributes to her natural leaning toward emergency dispatch, and like all MTCC system status controllers she is a trained paramedic. She’s been around MTCC since day one, same as Clinical Manager Michelle Piwniuk. Everything was new at the command and control center serving rural and Northern Manitoba. Protocols. Training. Certification. They were bringing on Regional Health Authority stakeholders one by one.

Although they practiced extensively before going live, they trained on scenarios and not actual calls. Emphasis was placed on using protocols exactly how they were written and getting clear answers from the caller before proceeding with the next question or instruction.

Black is grateful for the protocol’s precision, but she has also discovered the complex layers of emergency dispatch that puts her in a position to assist those new to the profession. After all, she remembers the feelings of anxiety and overwhelming responsibility.

“Yes, it’s scary when you answer the phone and don’t know what will happen when you do answer,” she said. “It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to ask for help. There’s always someone here. You’re never alone.”

The 10-seat communication center dispatches air and ground resources for 94 EMS stations operating in 650,000 square kilometers (about 403,892 square miles). The population is roughly 1.2 million (or less than one person per square kilometer/mile). In 2017–2018, they dispatched 150,000 incidents.

Baby delivery is a frequent call, relatively speaking. During the 12 years of operation, they have delivered 43 babies over the phone (which means the baby is fully delivered when EMS arrives on scene); 2017 was particularly busy, Piwniuk said.

“We had an uptick,” she said. “Nine babies.”

Black can’t imagine a day when any call becomes routine or mundane, no matter the number of baby delivery calls she answers. A caller saying “Thank you” at the end of the call is just about all it takes to satisfy her.

“That’s what keeps me going,” she said. “It’s a wonderful thing to pull all the resources together to help someone. I am very proud of what we do.”

MTCC is an IAED Accredited Center of Excellence.