Dispatchers often unsung heroes – but not this month

A vital link in the often life-saving process of a 911 call often goes overlooked.

  • Thursday, May 1, 2008 6:14pm
  • News

Roseann Mills was awarded for her “sustained exemplary performance” in her 911 dispatch job at Valley Com in Kent. The award came as part of a celebration of National Telecommunicators Week

A vital link in the often life-saving process of a 911 call often goes overlooked.

When a distressed citizen calls the emergency number, the voice that answers probably won’t ever make the news. In South King County, that voice belongs to one of the trained call receivers at Valley Communications in Kent.

“These are kind of the unsung heroes in the emergency response process,” said Steve Reinke, director of Valley Communications. “And it’s a difficult job. It requires a very bright person that can handle a lot of different things at once, process all the information, keep the folks in the field updated and help the callers who are often in a very excited state.”

Two of the emergency call center’s unsung heroes, Roseann Mills and Don Pederson, earned recognition for their deftness on the job April 16, becoming King County Emergency Medical Dispatchers of the Year.

Roseann Mills

Roseann Mills, 31, never thought she would be saving lives for a living. She said she just kind of fell into the job.

“I thought it would be interesting work, and it certainly is,” she said.

The Bonnie Lake resident answered her first 911 call at Valley Communications in August 1998, and almost 10 years later, she’s still at it. She was named a King County Emergency Medical Dispatcher of the Year April 16 for exemplary work throughout the year.

To her, that means she just put the same effort into her job every single day.

“I take it as just doing my job to the highest standards possible, just helping the public and giving 100 percent for every caller,” Mills said.

It’s difficult sometimes, she admitted. A call receiver has multiple responsibilities, and calls happen fast.

When a call comes in, Mills must first determine if the situation is an emergency or not, not an easy task when the caller is in a stressful situation, she said.

“It’s tough, because they’re going through a difficult time, and they’re taking out their frustration or fear on us on the phone,” she said. “But you have to just stick with them.”

She then collects as much information as possible from the caller, passing it all along to other dispatchers to keep emergency units updated as they head to the scene. All the while she’s there on the line, trying to keep the caller calm and give instructions to best resolve the situation.

“It goes very fast, and if someone is unconscious and needs CPR right away, that’s our job to open the manual and start giving them instructions on how to do that,” Mills said. “We’re just trying to help in those few minutes before the aid gets there.”

Those few minutes are often the difference between life and death, and Mills has been the voice in a caller’s ear directing life-saving techniques on multiple occasions. She has received awards from within Valley Communications for helping start CPR in dire situations.

She hopes her words have saved lives, but in many cases, she doesn’t get to hear the end of the story.

“A lot of the time we don’t hear whether somebody survived after the call or not,” she said. “I would like to know whether they pulled through and went on to live a healthy, happy life.”

Mills has taken hundreds if not thousands of calls over the last 10 years, but she’s not done yet, she said. She plans on continuing at the call center.

She’s thankful for this year’s recognition, but she said there are many others just like her who put in the same effort every day.

“It’s nice to be recognized, but there are so many people in this line of work that do the same thing I do every day that don’t ever get to hear a thank-you,” she said. “I really think they’re all doing a great job.”

Don Pederson

By Dean A. Radford

Editor, Renton Reporter

A 911 dispatcher, Don Pederson’s job is intense.

That was never as true as on April 10, 2007, when a call came in from Federal Way that a 5-year-old boy, playing with a lighter, had caught his clothes on fire.

Pederson of Renton, a dispatcher at Valley Communications in Kent, took the call. A frantic mother was on the line. The third-degree burns meant that the skin on his stomach, back and arm was peeling off.

“It was pretty bad,” Pederson said. He remembers the call, a year later. “It was so intense,” he said. The burns covered about a third of the child’s body.

Pederson immediately verified the address with the mother to ensure medics would go to the right address. Then he turned his attention to calming her.

The mother’s instinct was to put her son into a tub of cold water. But that is about the worst thing someone could do in that situation, according to Pederson.

For his expert handling of the call, Pederson was honored Wednesday in Kent as one of four King County Emergency Medical dispatchers of the year.

Pederson has been a dispatcher for 7 1/2 years. He’s also the offensive line coach for the Kent-Meridian High School football team in Kent.

“The big thing was getting the mom calmed down,” he said. “I was able to do that.”

But he also had to convince her not to put her son in cold bath water.

The concern is that the child could go into shock, he said. And it’s likely there is bacteria in the bathroom. “That could be deadly,” he said, with such critical burns.

He said medics later told him that the boy would probably be fine because of the instructions he gave to the mother. The child was taken to Harborview Medical Center for treatment.

Pederson said dispatchers receive continuing education to deal with medical emergencies, natural disasters and other emergencies.

Dispatchers coordinate the response to all those emergencies.

The awards are given by Public Health – Seattle & King County’s Emergency Medical Services Division during National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week to recognize overall excellence and expert response to critical incidents.

Valley Communications provides police, fire and medical dispatching in South King County, including Renton, managing approximately 57,000 emergency medical calls in 2007.

Dean A. Radford

Editor, Renton Reporter

425-255-3484, Ext. 5050

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