Tree Grows in Honor of Emergency Dispatchers

Audrey Fraizer

Audrey Fraizer

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Recognition comes in many shapes and sizes, but how often do you see the high-five presented in the shape of a leaf?

At Manatee County Emergency Communications Center (ECC) (Bradenton, Florida, USA), acknowledgment comes just that way, symbolic of a fresh start and growth in the Tree of Life. A leaf is added to the center’s Tree of Life each time dispatcher-directed PAIs for CPR are closely linked to survival from sudden cardiac arrest (getting a pulse back). The leaf and tree are a celebration in the name of the emergency dispatcher and the profession, in general.

Heather Hedgcock, Manatee ECC, quality assurance coordinator, designed the tree, and from the time of “planting” in January 2019 through July 2019, she has attached 36 laminated green leaves to the tree’s branches signifying the lifesaving force of emergency dispatchers.

“I wanted to do something to display the saves on a regular basis,” said Hedgcock, who reviews the CPR calls prior to awarding a leaf. “The calls must be highly compliant [to protocol].”

The tree, however, is about more than compliance to the Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS®). Foremost, the six-foot stenciled tree in the center’s foyer represents the dedication and hard work of emergency dispatchers that Hedgcock wanted on display for all to see.

“The protocols are wonderful; they save lives,” she said. “But I did the tree for the people here. It’s recognition.”

Hedgcock also considers customer service as a big part of the recognition and, like following protocol, it is second nature to the tri-Accredited Center of Excellence (medical, fire, police). After all, life-threatening situations make for extremely tense and dynamic calls that require the voice of calm and reassurance.

Performing to the best of one’s ability—and helping to keep a person alive while waiting for EMS to arrive on scene—easily falls by the wayside or, at least, in terms of recognition fails to attract attention, Hedgcock said. It’s not something emergency dispatchers go around bragging about.

The center receives a high volume of calls requiring CPR related to sudden cardiac arrest, opioid-based drug overdoses, and drowning. Once response is on scene, the emergency dispatcher disconnects and goes on to the next call. It’s not likely the dispatcher will announce what happened, let alone learn the call’s outcome. Most often they don’t know the patient’s status unless they hear it from dispatchers on the radio listening to the traffic between EMS and the hospital.

Senior Telecommunicator Jen Henderson has five leaves to her name. She can’t think of a career path in which she is better suited because of the ability to help people, make a difference during an emergency, and juggle multiple tasks in a fast-paced environment. Recognition might not be a priority on her list of why she is going on her 18th year at the Manatee County ECC, although the Tree of Life is a welcome addition on their walls.

“We don’t always get to know about the calls [other than their own] involving CPR, so it’s a really positive thing to be noticed,” she said. “The recognition is motivating, especially when we’re always striving to do better.”

The leaves aren’t the limit on the Manatee County ECC Tree of Life. Following a suggestion from Kim Rigden, IAED Associate Director of Accreditation, the tree will bloom with laminated pink and blue flowers celebrating emergency dispatcher-directed childbirth and delivery.

“Can’t wait to watch the tree grow over the years,” said Hedgcock, who in September reached her 20th anniversary at the Manatee ECC. “Everyone here does an awesome job.”

The Manatee County ECC is the primary 911 center for all wireless callers in Manatee County and landline callers outside of the City of Bradenton jurisdiction. They answer over 400,000 emergency and non-emergency calls per year and dispatch for Manatee County EMS, Manatee County Marine Rescue, and nine fire departments. In addition to the leaf with their name, emergency dispatchers receive a heart pin and certificate commemorating each CPR save.

About the Author:

Audrey Fraizer is managing editor of the Journal of Emergency Dispatch.