June 23, 2015
By Josh McFadden
In his 7 1/2 years at Columbia County (N.Y.) 911 dispatch center, Dana Petty has taken countless calls for a variety of emergencies. But he’d never had one like the call he took last October.
On that unforgettable day, Petty used the Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS) to guide Frank Eschenberger though the steps of delivering his baby boy in his home.
The delivery was successful, and the baby was healthy. On Feb. 5, 2015, with now-four-month-old Jace in tow, the thankful couple visited Petty at the dispatch center to offer their gratitude for helping bring their pride and joy into the world.
“I’ve never had someone come back and thank me before,” Petty said. “It was a pleasant surprise. It was kind of exciting. They were a nice young couple. I held the baby, met the family, and we chatted for an hour.”
It took the Eschenbergers a few months to track Petty down. They knew one of Petty’s co-workers and had initially sent Petty a message though Facebook, but the message got stuck in a different folder. It wasn’t until late December that Petty saw the message. Schedule conflicts and bad weather further delayed the meeting. But Frank and his wife, Samantha, were at last able to meet the man who calmly and skillfully turned a traumatic situation into a joyous occasion.
Petty answered Frank’s call at 10 p.m. on Oct. 4, 2014. Though he has taken about 20 calls during his career where the caller said the mother was in labor, this was the first where he actually went through the step-by-step Pre-Arrival Instructions (PAIs) to deliver the baby.
Petty asked the question “Can you see any part of the baby now?” When Frank responded that he could see the head, Petty knew his training and ability to follow the protocols would be put to the test.
“I knew this baby was coming,” he said. “I concentrated on giving the instructions.”
Petty went through Protocol F: Childbirth – Delivery, and within minutes, Frank excitedly reported “It’s coming out right now! I got it! I got it!” Petty instructed Frank to make sure the baby was breathing, to which Frank replied in the affirmative. After Frank announced to him that the baby was a boy (a fact the Eschenberger’s had chosen not to learn beforehand), Petty told him to “tie a string or shoelace tightly around the umbilical cord” and to put the baby in his mother’s arms. By this time, the fire department had arrived. Petty congratulated the parents and ended the call. The entire conversation took just four minutes.
Petty said he wasn’t panicking at all during the call and shrugs off any notion of being heroic. In fact, he praised Frank for his composure.
“I had the easy job; I just read what was on my computer screen,” Petty said. “The dad was calm during the entire call. He should be getting all the credit for this. I wish all callers were that calm. If you had a prototype caller, it would be him.”
Each year, Columbia County 911 takes about 35 calls involving pregnancy and childbirth. Most, however, result in normal hospital deliveries.
“Unfortunately, we deal with a lot of tragedy in this line of work, but good calls like this make the job worthwhile,” said Columbia County 911 Director Robert Lopez. “It’s a great feeling for a dispatcher when they can hang up the phone and know that they made a difference. In this case, the dispatcher helped bring a new life into the world. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
Petty said he would be ready and willing to field a similar call in the future, should the occasion arise. He’s grateful for the protocols and couldn’t imagine trying to do this challenging job without them.
“I wouldn’t even want to consider doing this without the protocols,” he said.