SOMETHING IN THE WATER
September 19, 2014
By Audrey Fraizer
“It’s about my team; it’s about my dispatchers,” Alaina Anderson repeats several times during the phone conversation. “Whatever you do, don’t make this about me. I’m just here to keep everything running smoothly and make sure the equipment works.”
Anderson is dispatch supervisor at the 9-1-1 comm. center at the Palmer Police Department in Palmer, Alaska. Palmer serves as the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) for roughly 25,250 square miles in the area known as Matanuska Susitna Borough (referred to as the Mat-Su Borough).
The center’s 11 dispatchers—plus Anderson and two on-call dispatchers—provide over-the-phone assistance and send response for all fire/EMS calls for the borough in addition to Palmer Police within the city’s limits. A population of 95,192 (in 2013) translates into about four people living in every one square mile.
Cellphone reception is not a guarantee and sometimes involves going to a home that has a cellphone booster or a satellite phone system. Sometimes, it takes more than a single point of departure. For example, a CPR call was recently relayed through a chain of bystanders, telephones, and two-way radios.
The vast stretches between hospital/medical clinic and non-city residents might explain the recent explosion in the number of babies delivered without the direct assistance of anyone outside the homes.
And having the Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS) Pre-Arrival Instructions (Protocol F: Childbirth – Delivery) was particularly advantageous for the four births occurring over five months (from November 2013 to April 2014).
The first in the string of births happened on Nov. 30, 2013. EMD Jeri Wallin was on the line for 11 minutes providing childbirth PAIs in a calm and reassuring voice to a dad understandably distraught about the situation. When medics arrived and took over, Wallin wished the father luck and the phone call ended. Two minutes and 20 seconds later, a message from the medics came over the radio: It’s a girl. Mom and the healthy baby were en route to the hospital.
EMD Amber Church was a bit anxious on Jan. 12, 2014, during the few seconds that elapsed between the birth that came two minutes into the phone call and the baby’s first breath.
But she didn’t miss a beat, Anderson said. Church was launching into Panel 14 instructions for “briskly rubbing the baby’s back up and down with a towel,” when the baby beat her to the punch. The baby’s umbilical cord was tied and the afterbirth delivered by the time paramedics arrived and transported the healthy baby boy and mom to the hospital.
“It was scary at first for Amber,” Anderson said. “Her fingers were shaking while she was typing but after she knew everything was going to be OK, she got a little choked up.”
The third delivery on Jan. 29, 2014, was the most complicated of the four, requiring instructions for a footling breech delivery.
EMD Sarah Beranek immediately went to Panel 20 after Case Entry in response to the male caller reporting, “My wife’s in labor, and I see a foot.”
Nine minutes into the delivery, the baby’s lower torso was out but the arms, shoulders, and head were not. It took another excruciating six minutes before the baby girl was fully delivered. She was not breathing and dad was on his hands and knees performing CPR when the medics arrived and took over, performing CPR for more than 10 minutes before picking up signs of pulse and respirations. Paramedics transported the baby to the hospital where she was then transferred to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Baby Pearl went home to mom and dad in mid-March.
EMD Allie Foley was on the line for 12 minutes on April 9 providing childbirth PAIs and reassurance to a woman whose daughter was in labor. When paramedics arrived, there were three generations at the home to greet them.
Foley compared the experience to a roller coaster.
“It was nerve-wracking, scary, and exciting all at the same time,” she said. “I thought my voice was shaky but when she went back to listen, I sounded just fine.”
The birth of four babies broke an eight-year drought since the last dispatch delivery in 2006, and each of the four EMDs who handled the calls qualified, according to Anderson’s “rule,” for stork pins.
“I determined the criteria was going to be Panel 5 (Start Delivery) of the Childbirth DLS Link,” she said. “Reading this panel, the baby is beginning to deliver and the dispatcher is right there with the caller experiencing childbirth.”
But communication center staff members weren’t the only ones participating in the celebration. Anderson’s “Labor and Delivery” sign posted over the dispatch entry doors in May brought in a truckload of diaper donations that Heart Reach—a local charitable baby diaper bank—picked up after the 10-day drive.