Audrey Fraizer

Audrey Fraizer


By Audrey Fraizer

There were so many shoes to fill, so many steps to follow, and a total of at least 3,000 left and right feet, that it’s lucky everybody had their toes pointed in so many directions during NAVIGATOR 2015.

This was an event for the record books, said Academy President Scott Freitag.

The reach was far beyond the numbers, the warm and sunny weather, the poolside chairs, the buzz of slot machines, and the thrill of Las Vegas shows, water fountains, and casinos.

“The impact of what do we affects millions of people all over the world in a very positive way,” Freitag said. “By attending NAVIGATOR, by using the protocol Dr. Jeff Clawson developed more than 35 years ago, we have achieved equal voice in the chain of emergency response.”


NAVIGATOR 2015 in Las Vegas scored a record high of more than 1,500 people in attendance representing 20 countries. This year’s theme,⎯Taking the Next Step, ⎯exemplified the electricity connecting pre-conference workshops and events to the Closing Luncheon and presentation of the Dr. Jeff Clawson Leadership Award and Communication Center Manager graduation certificates. There were more sessions, more speakers, more vendors, and more opportunities to network than ever before, igniting the passion emergency dispatchers have for their profession.

And it really didn’t matter in which direction you took your steps, because the conference always kept you moving forward.

“Each of us experiences the same challenges at our centers, although never at the same time,” Freitag said during his Opening Session remarks. “The next step for you may be very different than it is for me or the person sitting next to you. The goal is to go back and make your center better than it was before you came to NAVIGATOR.”

New venues for recognition were particularly well received, and despite the beckoning finger of Vegas attractions, the packed on-site schedule and special events obviously ruled the week. Topping off the annual conference was the Instructor Appreciation Evening held pre-conference to honor their tireless dedication and the many miles on the road and in the air they travel to teach certification classes around the world. Dave Massengale, an instructor of many teaching credentials, received the inaugural Instructor of the Year Award, while he and 27 of his pioneering teaching associates were recognized for their early and ongoing influence in the EFD, EPD, EMD, Q, and ECNS classrooms.

Board of Accreditation Chair Jerry Overton and Academy Associate Director Carlynn Page donned suit tails and white hats to greet the several hundred guests lining up at the door for the Accredited Center of Excellence (ACE) party.

Sandro Muschiett, Director, Ticino Soccorso 144, Breganzona, Switzerland, and the center’s Q, Christine Waegli, said their attention to ACE was sparked at NAVIGATOR 2006, held in Baltimore, Md. The center in southern Switzerland, in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, which borders Italy, achieved ACE in April 2015, two weeks prior to NAVIGATOR.

“On the way home [from Baltimore], we started talking about ACE and the level of quality it meant for our patients,” Waegli said. “We’ve always believed that quality and ACE is more than the protocols. It is about the whole system, the quality of care you provide, the network you create.”

A new track, aptly called Take the Next Step, gave voice to the Academy’s drive to dispatch communication excellence, highlighting the confidence gained by investing in whatever it takes to make your center a star. Most chairs were filled for the five sessions scheduled during consecutive time slots on Friday, sending the message loud and clear to anyone irrational enough to gamble the odds between conference and casino.

Susi Vergeiner, Administrator, Priority Dispatch Corp. Office, Brandenburg, Austria, said there was no contest between the bright lights and glitter of NAVIGATOR and the jangly music, beeps and chimes, and whir of spinning reels of slot machines.

Vergeiner remembers attending NAVIGATOR—before the conference went by that name—when it was held at the Snowbird ski resort in Utah accompanying her husband, Gernot, while he investigated the protocol for use in Austria. The protocol eventually found a receptive base in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, and she lent her superior organizational and people skills to an office that now coordinates all the administrative tasks in the German-speaking centers.

“When we started, it was very small, and it’s been fun to be a part of this as it continues to grow,” Vergeiner said. “NAVIGATOR is fun, interesting, and a great place to catch up with friends each year.”

Just coming to NAVIGATOR pumped the confidence and energy levels of Teodros “Ted” Deressengne, Supervisor, San Francisco (Calif.) Department of Emergency Management. Deressengne, who was voted top supervisor by his peers, was over-the-top enthusiastic not only because this was his first conference but, also, because he was in his element.

“There are all these people just like me,” he said. “We are the people never seen in the emergency. Yet, we know we make a difference. We give help at the critical point when it’s most needed.”

Once back at his center, Deressengne may very well be ladling bowls of his famous chicken noodle soup to co-workers while he regales them with stories of NAVIGATOR.

It’s no wonder his peers voted him Supervisor of 2014, said Madonna Valdez, the center’s day shift manager. “He’s not out for himself,” she said. “He’s super approachable and always knows to do the right thing.”

Q courses routinely packed in 150 or more and Dr. Clawson’s presentation—“Bad Moon Rising at Dispatch—Dangerous Protocol Omissions”—drew a full house of close to 300 enthusiastic fans and followers. Kevin Willett and his merry band of Public Safety Training Consultants always pack in a crowd guaranteed to an hour of fun in the interest of learning.

And talk about a full dance card.

Tony Guido, Performance Improvement, Communications, North Shore-Long Island Jewish (NS-LIJ) Center for EMS, said the variety and number of Q classes offered⎯and the two-hour ED-Q Forum Live that welcomed a bit of Q sparring of opinion⎯had him moving in leaps and bounds through the Paris Hotel convention center.

“This year’s NAVIGATOR took one big step forward, and I am proud to have spoken at and attended,” Guido said. “For a Q, there is nothing more important than the delivery of your feedback, and at this year’s NAVIGATOR, taking the next step for Qs spoke about improving your case review process and understanding how to handle those seemingly gray areas of protocol. The master Qs gave incredible insight.”

Networking was a step no one could miss given the crowds at the Opening Session and Closing Luncheon, the Exhibit Hall, the Wednesday evening dance-your-heart-out “Go-Go Lounge,” and the early-morning call to pastry and beverages that fueled the daily first rush to sessions. The 15 minutes allotted between sessions made for pockets of dispatchers talking, pointing directions, comparing notes, and synchronizing schedules. The two trips to the Las Vegas Fire Department communication center filled up within 20 minutes of their announced sign-up sheets.

Some steps are less perceptible.

The Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS) was the step that led to a better night’s rest for emergency dispatchers at RAV Brabant, MWN/BZO, Tilburg, Netherlands.

Harm van de Pas, M.D., Medical Director, Midden-West-Noord Regional Ambulance Service St. Elizabeth Hospital Tilburg, said he had walked around with an uneasy feeling about the process used in the country’s 1-1-2 centers following the death of a 17-year-old from a suspected pulmonary embolism. He trusted that the dispatcher—all of whom are registered nurses—answering the patient’s call had done everything possible for her, given the available tools at their center at that time, but was still thinking something more could have been done. Dr. van de Pas convened a meeting among all the medical directors in the Netherland’s EMS system to discuss philosophy.

“What were we trying to achieve?” asked Dr. van de Pas, who is now a member of the Academy’s College of Fellows. “Our core business was recognizing, sending, and helping, yet we had nothing to support that.”

Dr. van de Pas wanted a process that would arrive at a correct response, and he was adamant about being completely sure they helped the patient the best they could. He asked questions, did the research, and observed. The three EMS dispatch centers in the Netherlands now use the MPDS, with benefits that amazed even him.

“Before protocol, 80 percent of the complaints had to do with dispatch,” he said. “Now we have zero complaints. They have evaporated and, instead, we have people thanking us. The nurses tell me they have no more sleepless nights second guessing their response.”

Kimberly Stewart-Horan, Fire Communications Supervisor, Orange County Fire District in Florida, said the steps may not always be simple, but they are well worth the effort. Stewart-Horan fell into the luckiest job she could imagine when her application was accepted for a job at the Orange County Fire District communication center.

“I loved dispatch from the second I started,” she said. But ask her why and she can’t cite any one reason. “It’s everything about what I do,” she said. “I absolutely love it.”

The exact same sentiment didn’t greet the arrival of protocol. Dispatchers were certified emergency medical technicians. They knew what their callers needed; they did not need a set of scripted questions to help them improve at what they already did best. “We weren’t kicking and screaming for the protocols,” she said. It was something Barry Luke, now-retired Deputy Chief, Orange County Fire Rescue, was determined to accomplish, and she soon reached the same conclusion.

“We discovered this works,” she said. “Now all these years since, I don’t know how we did without the protocol.” Stewart-Horan has been at the center for 26 years and it’s never been a question of should she go or should she stay. “I love this job as much today as I did the day I started. I love coming to NAVIGATOR.”