What Happened?

Art Braunschweiger

Art Braunschweiger

From the Dispatch Side

“What happened” means what occurred just prior to a caller requesting police, fire, or EMS. If a caller responds with “She’s having an allergic reaction,” all too often an emergency dispatcher will enter “allergic reaction” in the complaint description field in ProQA® and move on.

Superficially, that isn’t what happened—it’s the end result. “Stung by hornets while working outside, throat swelling, having trouble breathing” describes what really happened. We’re obligated to clarify anytime the initial answer is vague or incomplete. “Alright Mr. Jansen, we’re sending the paramedics to help you. You said your wife is having an allergic reaction—tell me exactly what happened.” In two simple statements you’ve reassured them, acknowledged what they’ve said, and asked them to expand on what they said.

Protocol choice frequently depends on getting enough information. Consider a police example. “Can you send the police over here, please? There’s a suspicious vehicle parked in front of my house.” Suspicious? Not so fast. Unless you clarify, you won’t know whether it’s unoccupied and hasn’t moved for a week or whether there are two men inside watching the children in the park. For purposes of protocol selection, one meets the protocol definition of SUSPICIOUS vehicle (SUSPICIOUS: A belief that circumstances may involve criminal activity); the other does not.

In many dispatch centers, the emergency dispatcher who takes the call is not the emergency dispatcher who dispatches it. Mobile computers in responders’ vehicles are increasingly becoming interfaced with CAD systems so police, fire, and EMS en route to the scene see all information the emergency dispatcher captures. Case Entry information in ProQA, including “tell me exactly what happened,” is the first block of information sent from ProQA to CAD and can potentially appear on responders’ screens in less than 30 seconds depending on your CAD’s capabilities and how the interface is configured.

Responders should never be handicapped with incomplete information. Remember, they didn’t listen to the call. Give them a complete picture of what they’ll be walking into. “Fall injury” isn’t enough. Their expectations—and what equipment they might take out of the ambulance—will be far different for someone who tripped on the last step and twisted their ankle compared to someone who fell off a ladder and struck his head on the sidewalk. 

It can be helpful to remember that what we really need to know is what happened just prior to the call. So if your caller says, “My partner is having chest pain,” we still haven’t found out what happened. “What were they doing just before the chest pain started?” would be one of several ways to clarify further.

Your job is to prepare responders for what to expect and what they’ll face when they get there. If you give them the full picture combined with some key clinical information, they can continue their assessment where you left off. IAED™ Performance Standards don’t address how completely the “What Happened” narrative is written, so rate what you write. If you were a responder reading your narrative, would you give it an A+? Taking a few extra seconds to ask for and enter what really happened is always worth it. Ask any responder, and they’ll agree.