Safety Starts With Dispatch

By Dan Paulsen

When you begin rolling out the door for a call, many things go through your head in short order — incident type, staff, time of day, location and temperature. 

But have you spent any time considering if you have enough information, and whether the person giving you the information fully comprehends what they are sending you to? 

Safety should actually start at the beginning of the loop with the communications personnel. But how does the role of the dispatcher influence the outcome of a technical rescue incident?

The first issue to be addressed is that a dispatcher is more than a message manager. After the caller has contacted the center, they are the second part of a vital link in getting the right people to the incident with the right information.

If the dispatcher can have enough of a background to envision the incident presented and they know the resources available to them, they may have a better chance of anticipating resources required. They may also be able to provide enough information to save some very important people — the responders.

Imagine a distraught caller who phones in saying her 50-year-old husband has just collapsed while doing some chores on their acreage. The address is confirmed and the medical history is discussed. EMS is dispatched to find the man laying face down in the sump well. The medical personnel enter the well to administer care and you now have the next day's headline: "Three die in local confined space." Not a very pleasant thought.

You have heard the statistic many times that 60 percent of all confined-space fatalities are would-be rescuers. If the rescuer knew what he faced, we trust the outcome would be different. This is where the role of the dispatcher can prove to be invaluable in the safety chain. If the dispatcher knew the lethal potential of an enclosed space, could the telephone conversation have been able to ascertain more of the what, where, and why's of the incident to protect the responders?

Seconds of "reasonable" questioning can save valuable time in deploying the properly trained personnel and give them more of a heads-up. 
I am not a dispatcher and can only sympathize with those that are as they listen to the events unfolding. But as a rescuer for more than 20 years, I desire all the information I can get to help me make the right decisions in the field. When dispatched to motor vehicle accidents am I going to an under ride, over ride, roll over, multiple casualty, hazardous materials call or maybe all of the above?  If the dispatcher has an understanding of the incidents and knows the resources available to mitigate these situations, I believe results would be positive for all participants.

I am not advocating changes in dispatch protocols or communications personnel commanding incidents — my goal is to see the patient and rescuer get to have the best chance of safety and survival. It's vital the dispatcher is given the proper tools — information/education — to be able to send the right response information with properly trained rescuers and the right equipment. 

Dan Paulsen is a 24-year member of the Saskatoon Fire and Protective Services in Canada. He holds the rank of assistant chief. He is also a fire service instructor in rescue teaching, covering dive rescue/recovery, technical rope, confined Space and extrication.



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