Heather Darata

Heather Darata

Story Vault

By Heather Darata

The big play on Super Bowl Sunday came before the game even began. Thomas Kenney, Litchfield County (Conn.) Dispatch dispatcher-in-training, was munching on some pretzels during a moment of downtime when one didn’t glide down his throat like the others had.

“She (trainer Melissa Lindgren) turned around,” Kenney said. “I guess I wasn’t breathing properly, making weird noises.”

Lindgren and dispatcher Adam Sevelowitz looked at each other.

“I heard Melissa say ‘are you choking,’ and I saw Tom standing up hitting his chest,” Sevelowitz said. “All of the sudden he gave the universal sign for choking.”

Sevelowitz jumped up to perform the Heimlich maneuver to dislodge the persistent pretzel. Lindgren grabbed the AED while Sevelowitz performed the Heimlich, just in case things took a more serious turn.

But one time was all it took, and 30 seconds later, Kenney was breathing just fine.

“I’ve never had to do the Heimlich before,” Sevelowitz said. “That’s when we realized that it was a little more serious than we thought.”

Kenney didn’t feel any aftereffects from the choking incident once the pretzel was dislodged.

“I stopped eating those pretzels,” he said.

Sevelowitz remembers the room returning to normal after the scare.

“The mood in the room lightened up a bit after we realized he was OK,” he said. “We went back to work.”

Kenney had been at the center for one month at the time, coming from another center nearby where he had worked for five years as a dispatcher. Sevelowitz has been with Litchfield County Dispatch for four years, having worked a total of seven years as a dispatcher after beginning a career in public safety as an EMT.

“We’re a pretty good group of people that work together,” Sevelowitz said.

Whether it was Sevelowitz’s background as an EMT or his training as a dispatcher, it all came together.

“I think it’s a combination of both—protocol and my EMT background,” he said.

Training and QA Coordinator Jeff Liskin said recognition of the entire shift is in the works. The other two dispatchers in the room at the time—Jen Pratt and Martin Rinko—continued manning the phones and radios while Lindgren and Sevelowitz helped Kenney.

Litchfield County Dispatch uses the Priority Dispatch System protocols (medical, fire, and police). The center dispatches for a population of 96,615 people, 33 fire services, 18 ambulance services, 3 paramedic services, and 1 police department.