Wednesday, July 30, 2014

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Public Safety Telecommunications Week

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Public Safety Telecommunications Week
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It's one of the most important, but maybe the least recognized part of an emergency: The call for help. Dispatchers not only have to coordinate each responding unit, but do it under amazing levels of stress. And sometimes they have to take matters into their own hands. As our Brian Dwyer reports, this is the week the nation honors them.

JEFFERSON COUNTY, N.Y. -- Whether it be a child locked in a car, a domestic dispute, a fire or a traffic accident, the response starts here. This is the Jefferson County 911 Dispatch Center. Someone here answers the call and in a matter of minutes, coordinates crews to respond.

It's not the part of the effort you often see, except for maybe this week, national Public Safety Telecommunications Week.

"They're just as important as the firefighters, the police officers, the EMTs and paramedics that respond to the calls because they themselves are also handling calls just as responders on the streets are," said Fred Lampman, Jefferson County Deputy EMS Director.

And handling those calls isn't easy. Oftentimes, people are panicked and can't totally focus. Stress is the name of the game.

It was this past July when these dispatchers got numerous of those kinds of calls at once.

"You could tell that was a bad call right from the start," dispatcher Don Hopkins said.

An accident on Route 11 in Antwerp. Cars piled up, some on fire. Mass panic and confusion.

Hopkins said, "We had a bunch of calls that we had an accident with multiple injury type thing. They weren't sure what was going on. Cars into another vehicle, that type of thing, with fire."

It turned out to be one of the biggest tragedies in the North Country in some time. Six people died. But coordination efforts helped crews understand what was happening and made sure they had what they needed. In fact, one survivor, a driver of a Department of Transportation vehicle, was rushed to help. Everything set up right here.

"We had, I don't even want to guess, probably 20 different people there between ambulances, fire, police, helicopters," Hopkins said.

But there's a lot more to this job than just answering a phone and coordinating responses. These folks have to know a wide variety of things, including medical responses. Say someone were to call with a heart attack or a CPR need, dispatchers have to know how to help that person save a life.

Lampman said, "They can deliver a child over the telephone. They can handle a heart attack over the telephone, give CPR instructions, control bleeding, things of that nature."

This week our chance to say thank you.

And if you do want to say thank you, you can head over to the Jefferson County EMS Facebook page and write up a short message...

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