Fairfield now offers improved 911 help

Fairfield County’s 911 emergency call service has been upgraded to provide callers with more assistance during a crisis.

“We’re now called Emergency Medical Dispatchers, or EMDs,” said Phyllis Watkins, Emergency Management Director in Fairfield County. “Before, it was just ‘911 Dispatchers’. The difference is that we can now give life-saving instructions to the caller while they are waiting for EMS.”

This change resulted from new NHTSA certification for the dispatchers and the integration of software technology and touch-screen devices to aid them during emergency calls. Now, when someone calls 911, the dispatcher uses the touch-screen device to select from an array of emergency situations, including trauma, stroke, cardiac arrest, seizures and animal bites. The program then guides the dispatcher through a series of questions and answers to determine which specific actions the caller can take in order to help the person who is experiencing the emergency.

“With this new system,” Watkins said, “we can help the caller respond to the emergency even if they don’t have any medical knowledge. For instance, if a child called and said ‘my mom isn’t breathing’, we can talk to that child and give them instructions for helping her until the ambulance service arrives.”

Watkins said the new system will increase the chance of survival in medical emergencies.

“In the past,” she said, “when someone called and asked, ‘what can I do?’, we weren’t certified and didn’t have the capability to tell them to do anything else. But now, when they ask ‘what can I do?’ we have a protocol to talk them through it until the EMS arrives.”

Another new upgrade is that 911 can now be contacted by text message, though this is available only from cell phones that have service through Verizon, Sprint, AT&T or T-Mobile.

“But sending a text to 911 should only be used at times that you absolutely cannot make a voice call,” Watkins cautioned, explaining that the service is designed as a solution for people who are deaf, hard of hearing or who have a speech difficulty, or for situations where texting might be a person’s only option. “If you need to contact 911 and you can talk, it’s better to call instead of text.”