From Private to Public

Audrey Fraizer

Audrey Fraizer

Case Exit

You can never predict why or when an artifact from a coveted collection will end up in your hands. 

If you’re lucky, and someone knows the item’s worth to you, it may very well happen. 

In this instance, a paper-bound protocol training manual was on Michael Fagel’s public safety shelves for more than 40 years before he turned it over to Nicole Lamela, Deputy Director of Operations at DuPage Public Safety Communications (DU-COMM), Wheaton, Illinois (USA). Fagel is a member of the Kane County, Illinois (USA), Emergency Communications Board that supports KaneComm as well as a board member of the Kane County Enhanced 911 Emergency Telephone System Board (ETSB) and figured the bustling communication center was the better place for an original Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS®) Training Manual than on his home shelves measuring the length of three semitrailers. 

He also admires the heck out of Lamela. “She’s really dialed in to the public she serves, our customers who dial 911 on the worst day of their lives. A true professional,” said Fagel, who lives in a village in Kane County. “She runs a state-of-the-art operation. I’ve worked in dispatch but nothing close to her level. The profession’s come a long way from when I started. I could not do what they [emergency dispatchers] do to save my life.” 

Lamela was every bit as happy to take ownership of the manual.

“We’re very fortunate to have this piece in our collection,” said Lamela, who was director at Tri-Com Central Dispatch, St. Charles, Illinois, prior to DU-COMM. She started her career in 1993 as a foot in the door to becoming a police officer. It didn’t take long for her to realize that emergency dispatch was the profession for her. “I wanted to be in the background,” she said. “We’re always here. We’re always ready. We have to get it right to give our callers the best chance possible.” 

As far as the Medical Protocol? Fagel’s a big fan. “The dispatch system is awesome. With Protocols, these public safety professionals can do in minutes what seems like an eternity in the caller’s life. Dispatchers save lives.”  

The same goes for DU-COMM. The center uses the medical and fire protocols (MPDS and FPDS®). 

Fagel picked up the training manual, authored by Jeff Clawson, M.D., at a 911 conference held during the first full decade of the Medical Protocol’s release. The manual is an updated version (1986) of the 1979 classic training guide. Its condition is perfect, owing to a protected shelf life. 

In fact, the manual’s condition is up there with everything in Fagel’s collection. In his private “museum,” he displays a model of the Motorola biophone, a portable radio and data transmitter used by paramedics to talk to doctors in the hospital and transmit information. The “orange box” Fagel owns was the type accompanying Kevin Tighe and Randolph Mantooth, who portrayed paramedics Roy DeSoto and Johnny Gage, respectively, in the show Emergency! “I’m a radio guy,” Fagel said.

In 1977, Dr. Jeff Clawson began developing protocols for use by emergency dispatchers. His protocols, now known as the MPDS, were introduced throughout the Salt Lake City (Utah) Fire Department in 1978. In 1979, Dr. Clawson conducted the first formal training program for emergency dispatchers and designated Emergency Medical Dispatchers (EMDs).

In 1983, the emergency dispatcher certification program was established. The original MPDS cardset evolved into an international sensation found in 57 countries and translated into 27 languages, and training involves a network of instructors certified by the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch® (IAED). 

In 1976, Fagel served Kane County as an auxiliary sheriff’s deputy, as well as EMS coordinator for his local fire department. He holds a Ph.D. in occupational safety and health from Columbia Southern University. During the past four decades, he has worked in fire service, emergency medical service, public health, law enforcement, and emergency management, and he consults for several agencies on homeland security issues. The materials he’s collected are arranged by genre and subject on shelves that if placed in a line one after the other extend the length of three semitrailers. Hence, the Medical Protocol training manual is right off his shelf and into DU-COMM's front entry display case.

Even 40 years ago, Fagel realized the value of protocols and the process Dr. Clawson advocated for during a presentation at the same conference where he picked up the manual. The 911 system was relatively new to Illinois, debuting in 1976, and Fagel was a radio fanatic born from the required Kane County police rotation between field and dispatch. The decade of the 1970s was ripe for emergency services. Everything was “brand spanking new,” Fagel said. “I came at the right time. It’s the way I’ve built my life. My goal has always been making things better for others.” 

Fagel’s world continues to revolve around public safety. He served at the World Trade Center following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks for over 100 days as a safety and logistics officer for the U.S. Department of Justice attached to the Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY), helping to create a semblance of order out of the chaos. He used Palm Pilots, display pagers, analog cellphones and bulky 2-way radios back then to establish communications when the infrastructure was destroyed in the collapse.

Modern communications is much more than a device, Fagel said. “It’s a culture and that is what Brian [Tegtmeyer]and Nicole’s team does at DU-COMM for the agencies they serve 24-7.”

Of course, emergency services have evolved rapidly, and the “biggest change is the way we receive information,” said DU-COMM Executive Director Brian Tegtmeyer. “Technology isn't slowing down, from punch cards and teletype machines, to landlines, and all the way to NG911.” 

The Tighe and Mantooth Motorola biophone–once state of the art–is Fagel’s cherished relic from the past. “It’s like a small shrine to the show I grew up watching,” Fagel said. 

DU-COMM is a prime example of changing with the times. DU-COMM was formed in 1975 to provide public safety communications services to police, fire, and EMS agencies. The center has moved three times over the past 45 years, from a cold war bomb shelter to a stand-alone facility, and finally, in 2018 to a new facility at the DuPage County government campus. Today, DU-COMM serves 44 agencies in DuPage County (west of Chicago) and is one of the largest consolidated 911 centers in Illinois.

Tegtmeyer said DU-COMM’s 87 telecommunicators are the backbone of the center and supported by three communications managers, a training coordinator, six communications supervisors, two administrative assistants, and three part‐time alarm operators. In 2021, DU-COMM answered 275,355 911 calls and processed over a million total calls in and out of the center. DU-COMM personnel handled over 650,000 incidents/events for their member police and fire agencies.