October 22, 2019
Silver lining. The metaphor of the hopeful side of a bad situation. It doesn’t dismiss what has happened or change things, but in a positive sense, the silver lining helps carry people through the darkest clouds of a given experience.
At least, that’s the way an emergency response technician and two dispatchers describe a call that would keep most from seeing even the smallest gain despite a tragic loss.
The 911 call came in to the Colorado Springs Police/Fire Department Communications Center (Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA) at about 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 15, 2018. A 12-year-old said he had pulled three children—all under the age of 7—from a swimming pool at an apartment complex. He was a neighbor and didn’t say how long they had been submerged but that he had already started CPR to revive at least one of them.
Emergency Response Technician Dana Heckman got their ages, sent an ECHO response, connected the call to the fire/EMS and police dispatchers (Alison Davis and Alyssa Kaufman, respectively), and then initiated PAIs to clear their airways. Others arrived at the scene. The PAIs Heckman provided to the neighbor were shouted to others arriving on the scene. They turned the children’s heads, as instructed, to get the water out before resuming CPR.
Heckman doesn’t remember hearing anything besides the boy’s voice repeating her instructions to others who jumped in to assist. If there was commotion at the pool, Heckman didn’t hear it. She was focused on the emergency.
“I knew help was on its way and did what we spend so much time training to do,” she said.
Davis dispatched medical response within 10 seconds of the call, while Kaufman alerted police (due to ages of the children involved). By the time the medics arrived (within four minutes), one child was responding; the other two were not.
Heckman disconnected. Davis and Kaufman coordinated response on scene.
Late afternoon is a busy time of day, and Heckman said she went on to the next call. While she could have taken a break to relieve tension related to the incident, she did not. Neither did the two dispatchers despite their indirect presence to the tragedy still unfolding at the swimming pool.
Their job is hard every day and emergencies such as this are doubly tough on everyone, particularly the responders she dispatches, Kaufman said.
“You can hear it in the officers’ voices,” she said. “You paint a picture of the expressions on their face. It’s not easy for anyone.”
Center Director Renee Henshaw said there’s a line separating those who stay from those who decide the profession is not for them. Compassion isn’t the sole factor. Anyone considering emergency dispatch as a profession does so to help people. And it’s not a matter of escaping the reality of a crisis or pretending that no matter what happens, you’re not bothered by it.
Heckman said it’s the “silver lining” she looks for. She focuses on the positive and that can mean listening as response arrives and knowing the coordinated effort the team puts forth.
“You can hear it,” she said. “I heard police and fire coming together to give the best care they could to these kids.”
The same goes for Davis and Kaufman. What’s the point of dwelling on what you can’t change when you’ve done everything possible to restore some sort of balance? They take the “good of it,” Kaufman said. “Seeing that side makes what we do most meaningful.”
Henshaw said it’s a mindset about the way they choose to perceive their work.
“They’re not going to get a pat on the back for all they do,” Henshaw said. “There’s not a lot of praise from people outside the center. Their reward is intrinsic, and that’s part of what makes them so super.”
Heckman was selected as Telecommunicator of the Fourth Quarter 2018 from Colorado Springs Public Safety Communication Center and nominated for the IAED™ Dispatcher of the Year award.