PSAP Spotlight

Elk County Office of Emergency Services

Elk County Recognizes 4 Telecommunicators for Life-Saving efforts

Ridgway, Pennsylvania—Nov. 2, 2017Telecommunicators work 8- and 10-hour shifts responding to frantic callers, providing instructions on a wide range of emergencies, and sending the right help to relieve people with urgent needs. To help recognize their finest efforts, officials at Elk County Office of Emergency Services in Ridgway, Pennsylvania, have created the Save a Life/Deliver a Life Recognition Award to acknowledge dispatchers whose exemplary work helped avert catastrophe during life-and-death situations.

Save a Life/Deliver a Life Recognition Award pays tribute to four telecommunicators who expertly followed evidence-based protocols in five different scenarios in recent months. The telecommunicators’ name, date of call and either Save a Life or Deliver a Life are etched on a plaque that hangs outside the communications center.

“Emergency dispatch is a thankless profession,” said Mark Greenthaner, Elk County Office of Emergency Services Quality Assurance Supervisor. “These men and women sacrifice more than the citizens they serve will ever realize. This recognition lets our staff know they are truly appreciated. As you know most calls don’t have good outcomes, this is our way of recognizing them for their outstanding effort.”

Melissa Stahli’s place on the plaque comes from a July 16th call when someone at a local restaurant reported another patron was choking. The patient wasn’t breathing, and Stahli recognized a complete obstruction. Before she could begin Heimlich instructions, the patient went unconscious. Without hesitation, Stahli instructed a bystander to straddle the patient’s hips and use their weight to push quickly into the patient’s stomach. After several rounds, the food became dislodged, and the patient began breathing and regained consciousness. Upon EMS arrival, the patient was awake and alert.

The second telecommunicator who earned the recognition award is Jackie Zuback. On Aug. 12th, Zuback spoke with a caller who witnessed his wife collapse in the middle of a conversation. The caller originally reported his wife “passed out.” Zuback determined that the patient wasn’t breathing, and she quickly administered “Compression-Only” CPR instructions. CPR continued upon EMS arrival, and the patient was revived. It was later determined the patient suffered from a ruptured brain aneurysm.

Telecommunicator Kurt Whiting was recognized for saves just over an hour apart late on Sept. 24th and early on Sept. 25th. In the first call, Whiting walked a caller through CPR instructions on her neighbor, who was found unconscious. Thanks to his instructions, the caller helped the patient until paramedics arrived and took over. The patient was later revived and was released from the hospital.

In Whiting’s second call, a 64-year-old man called, complaining of chest pain and pain in the shoulders and arm. When Whiting learned that the man’s son was at home, he instructed the caller to ask his son to bring him aspirin. However, when the son arrived with the aspirin, the father had collapsed. The son took the phone and reported that his father was not awake and not breathing. Whiting gave the son compressions-only CPR instructions, which he performed. Within minutes of arrival at the hospital, the patient regained spontaneous circulation. The patient was sent to the Cath Lab for a stent and was admitted to ICU.

The fourth team member of Elk County’s Recognition Award is Amanda Catalano. On Oct. 7th, she processed a call for a patient who had overdosed on a drug known as “Benzos.” The patient was reported as unconscious and not breathing. Catalano quickly began to instruct the caller to give CPR. She made sure the caller didn’t stop and ensured the compressions were being conducted at the proper rate. The patient was revived and transported via medical helicopter. The patient eventually passed away, but Elk County officials still consider this a “save.”

“Some outside of 911 would question how this can be a save if the patient died,” Greenthaner said. “In 911, our mission is to answer a citizen’s call for help. While on the call for help, we will send the citizen the right help the right way, right now. We will also do everything in our power to save or prolong a patient’s life. In this scenario, Amanda prolonged her patient’s life. The family of the patient was able to say a dignified good-bye. So yes, Amanda saved a life that day.”

Greenthaner said telecommunicators have responded positively to the program and are grateful to know their colleagues appreciate their work.

“It’s been received really well,” he said. “When they take a potentially fatal call, they’re working hard to save that patient. While the recognition is great, they’re doing it because they truly want to save lives. It makes them truly feel appreciated. Anytime they can be recognized for their hard work, it makes them feel good. [Telecommunicators] walk by the plaque every day to get to the communications center. Whether they get a save or not, it’s a reminder that what they do is truly important and they make differences in people’s lives every single shift.”

All four telecommunicators were nominated for the Call of the Week, an award given by the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch™ (IAED®) that recognizes telecommunicators from around the world who correctly follow established protocol and provide excellent service to both callers and patients in difficult and unique circumstances.

About IAED

The IAED is the world’s foremost standard-setting and certification organization for emergency communications with over 64,000 members in 46 countries. More than 3,000 communication centers in 23 languages employ IAED’s protocols and training in medical, fire, and police dispatching.

About Elk County Office of Emergency Services

 Elk County Office of Emergency Services is a Primary PSAP located in Northwest Pennsylvania. The PSAP serves 35,000 citizens of Elk & Cameron Counties. The office employs 20 Telecommunicators and 5 Administrative staff. Elk County Office of Emergency Services is a leader in the PSAP community. While current legislation only requires a commercially available medical protocol system; Elk County recognizes the importance of a proven protocol system for all disciplines. Elk County has been an early adopter of the IAED’s Medical, Fire & Police protocol systems to ensure every call for help is handled appropriately.