February 2, 2018
A squeal of brakes caught Mary Pellegrin’s attention.
She instinctively turned, looked out the window, and watched the rear fenders of a car disappearing into the bayou less than 100 feet from the Lafourche Parish Fire District 3 (LPFD3) communication center.
Luckily Pellegrin is an EMD and EFD, and luckily for the vehicle’s occupants, she was sitting within sight and sound of the bayou and highway. Pellegrin dispatched EMS while she did the same for fire rescue. Everyone survived.
“This was something I witnessed,” she said. “This wasn’t a call. Thank God I was here to see it. You can never say what will happen.”
Accidental vehicular slides, turns, and spins into the bayou don’t always end happily. Sometimes, after dusk, a car falling into the bayou might go unnoticed until the next morning. Or the driver steering off course might hit a barge or tug boat. But the water and below sea level ground are what make working at the center unique from most other agencies, Supervisor Mary Rotolo said. “There’s a lot we have to do differently because of the bayou.”
Pellegrin is entering her 30th year in emergency communications. She started in dispatch at the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office in 1988, straight out of high school, and left in 1994 for LPFD3. The thousands of calls she’s answered over the years tend to run together, although, at the same time, her attention stays in the moment on every call.
While water figures into a lot of calls, the dual certified emergency dispatchers—EMD and EFD—also receive their share of callers reporting cardiac arrests, structure fires, falls, and calls following the national trends such as opioid overdoses.
The call Pellegrin took on the day ProQA® went live (Aug. 21, 2017) was not so much unexpected as it was one she would have preferred answering with more experience using the software. The caller reported an overdose, and not only did Pellegrin use the MPDS® Breathing Verification Diagnostic but also gave instructions for CPR. Fire rescue arrived, continued CPR, and administered Narcan. The patient survived.
Pellegrin also remembers feeling a bit uneasy as one of two emergency dispatchers at the center when Hurricane Cindy (July 2005), originally categorized as a tropical storm, was upgraded to a Category 1 hurricane in the post-storm analysis.
But surviving storms and giving life-saving instructions are reasons she loves the job.
“I love the excitement,” Pellegrin said. “I love helping people. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”
During National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, the Lafourche Parish Fire District 3 Facebook page featured something each day about one of the emergency dispatchers using the hashtag #teamdispatch (https://www.facebook.com/hashtag/teamdispatch?source=feed_text&story_id=766766776833123). The following are abbreviated versions.
Suzanne joined our organization on Dec. 29, 1986. One thing is a guarantee with Suzanne: You’ll always get a smile.
Mary P. joined LPFD3 on Nov. 7, 1994. No matter what emergency comes in, Mary can make a decision in a second and send out the troops, but don’t make her decide what’s for lunch.
Sheila joined our team on Nov. 9, 1994. She’s a team player and gets along with everyone.
Chelsie joined our team on March 23, 2009. She has a passion for helping people, and that shines through when she’s working.
Lauren joined LPFD3 on Sept. 6, 2011. She enjoys being here. She loves her job.
Jordan started working with LPFD3 on Sept. 7, 2011. He’s a team player and always goes above and beyond for #teamdispatch!
Lynn joined our team on Feb. 17, 2012. She has a passion to help people.
Theresa joined us on Aug. 26, 2013. She puts everything she has into every emergency.
Amber joined our team 5 months ago. Her nickname in dispatch is “Eager Beaver” because she’s always so willing to learn.
Mary Rotolo joined the organization on Jan. 1, 1985. She is proud of her team and the certifications they have obtained through the years.
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