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911 Center adds to lifesaving duties
Program allows operators to give procedure instructions over phone
Hall County 911 Director Marty Nix talks about a new Emergency Medical Dispatch initiative at the Hall County Emergency Services Headquarters Thursday. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Senior Communications Officer Rachelle Dhabolt and her co-workers in Hall County’s 911 Center have often felt the frustration of answering medical emergency calls but being prevented from dispensing any instructions to the callers.

From seniors suffering heart attacks to children with problems breathing, each crisis had to wait until a first responder arrived on the scene before getting any help. For legal liability reasons, call-takers at the 911 Center were not allowed to give medical instructions over the phone without special certifications.

That changes next week, when Hall County joins a growing number of metro-area counties in implementing Emergency Medical Dispatch at its 911 center.

"We’re going to be able assist the parents and the baby sitters," Dhabolt said. "Everybody here has a story you take away of a time when you wish you could make a difference in a situation, and hopefully now that window is going to be opened up to us."

Sterling Strickland, a Hall County paramedic who headed up training for the new program, said much of the instructions dispensed by 911 call-takers will be for CPR, choking, bleeding control, burn first aid and childbirth.

The difference is callers won’t have to wait interminable minutes for a paramedic or emergency medical technician to arrive before starting treatment.

"We now have a zero-minute response time," Strickland said. "From the time you’re on the phone with the dispatcher, if you need assistance, they’re going to be able to give you those pre-arrival instructions that could possibly be lifesaving."

Training Specialist Christine Goss said that’s a big break from the past, when call-takers were legally prevented from offering basic first aid instructions.

"The best thing we could do is try to console the caller and tell them help’s on the way," Goss said.

Call-takers will follow a specific protocol, in which they go through a list of questions with callers and follow a chart on their computers that lists the most appropriate instructions. In the event of computer failure, a physical flip-chart is within reach.

Hall County Fire Chief David Kimbrell said Emergency Medical Dispatch will give his paramedics and EMTs a better idea of what to expect when they arrive on scene and could prevent sending out more resources than necessary.

"It will hopefully cut down on some responses we don’t need to make," Kimbrell said. "We normally now send out for the worst, sending fire trucks and ambulances out together, simply because you don’t know the magnitude of it. Hopefully this will get better information and we can cut back on sending as much equipment."

Marty Nix, Hall County’s 911 director, said the project was the fruition of nearly two years of discussion and planning and was another needed advance in the center’s capabilities.

"The bottom line is, it saves lives," Nix said. "That’s what it’s all about — that’s what we’re trying to do."

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