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Learn tips for calling EMS during National EMS Week

This week is National EMS Week and it gives us an opportunity to express appreciation, learn a little EMS history and get some tips for helping emergency responders help us.

I have deep gratitude for EMS practitioners. Without the help of a 911 operator and the EMS personnel who answered a call many years ago, I would not be writing this article. I was 13 and home alone. I had a history of asthma and on that particular day, none of the medication I had was helping. I was hesitant to call 911 as I thought my mother would be home soon and could help. I waited for what felt like an eternity. I remember feeling panicked as I pulled my body up until I was sitting on the dinette table so that I could reach the yellow phone mounted on the wall. I lost consciousness during the call to 911.

My mother came home to find me on the floor with the coiled cord and the receiver dangling downward. The 911 operator had stayed on the line. As my mother approached me, she heard a voice coming from the phone. The operator talked my mother through the process of giving me mouth-to-mouth resuscitation until EMS arrived. I don’t remember anything until I experienced a feeling of ethereal lightness and calm. I remember looking down and seeing myself in my new favorite shirt. I can still picture the light fabric with tiny soft-colored flowers and a thin piece of peach colored satin hanging from both sides of the collar.

I watched in curiosity as I saw my small body surrounded by my rescuers. Next, I noticed my sister coming through the door. She had been at work, but later explained she felt an urgent need to get home. I can only imagine the thoughts and feelings she experienced as she reached our street and saw it lined with flashing lights. I don’t remember making a conscious decision to return to my body. I don’t remember being transported to the hospital or even returning home from the hospital. I only remember feeling gratitude for those who, committed to the stressful job of responding to calls on that day, saved my life.

EMS History

In 1974, President Gerald Ford authorized Emergency Medical Services (EMS) week. Prior to 1966, it was not uncommon for local funeral homes to provide transportation to the hospital. Early ambulances were horse-drawn carriages. Later hearses were used because they were large enough to carry someone on a stretcher. Eventually, hearses became what was called a “combination car” equipped to serve as a hearse or an ambulance. Accidental Death and Disability: The Neglected Disease of Modern Society, published in 1966 by the National Academy of Sciences, was used by health and safety advocates as a resource and ultimately helped lead to the development of a more structured EMS system which included better regulation and training.

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Credit: Robbie Gwinn, Owner/President, Lanford-Gwinn Mortuary

Tips When Calling 911

When we make a call to 911, we are usually under duress. Wendy Lively Rooney, Deputy Director at Spartanburg County Communications 911, provides this important information, “When you place a call to 911, it may seem like a long time has passed before the phone is answered. You will hear additional rings before the call rings into the 911 Communications Center. To help remain calm, I recommend taking a slow, deep breath as you hear each ring.”

It is the policy of Spartanburg’s 911 Center to call back any unanswered calls. If you hang up and then call back while they are trying to reach you, an additional line is needlessly tied up. Stay on the line until someone answers, even if you have called 911 by mistake.

“If you call 911 by accident please stay on the line and let us know so that we do not have to call you back to verify that you did not have an emergency,” Rooney explains.

Often callers are frustrated by the number of questions asked by the 911 operator. These answers are imperative to determine which emergency professionals to dispatch.

Rodney McAbee, Operations Manager for Spartanburg EMS at Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System, points out that, “911 Operators will ask lots of questions. The answers to these questions help us prepare for what we will encounter when we arrive. The 911 Communication Center sends updates while we are en route to a call.”

An example of why this ongoing communication is vital could be a call that comes in regarding a patient that is experiencing chest pain but worsens to not breathing before help arrives. “Based on the information we receive we may summon additional assistance including advanced life support backup,” McAbee said.

Tips Once EMS Has Arrived

EMS sometimes hears complaints that they are not driving fast enough to the hospital. “Faster is not always better,” McAbee said. “We respond with lights and sirens, but we go as fast as safety requires to effectively maneuver through traffic, school zones, and red lights.”

He adds, “There is often a misconception that once EMS arrives that they will scoop up the patient and speed to the hospital. EMS is highly trained to handle a variety of situations on-site and provides important care before transporting to the hospital.”

Becoming a Certified Paramedic/EMT

For many being a paramedic or EMT is a rewarding career that is filled with opportunities to serve those in need. South Carolina has specific certification requirements and offers several EMT and Paramedic education and training centers including Spartanburg Community College where students can obtain certification or an AAS degree. For those desiring a Baccalaureate degree, Western Carolina offers the Emergency Medical Care (EMC) Program. Advanced degrees are also available. Learn more about these on the NAEMT website.

About the Author

Stacey Bevill

Stacey Bevill

Stacey Bevill, ACC, NCC, MPM®, is the founder of Ask and Receive Coaching, LLC which offers coaching, consulting, custom workshops, and presentations. She received her certification from the internationally acclaimed Newfield Network Coaching Institute. She is certified by the International Coach Federation (ICF) and the International Association of Trauma Professionals (CTP). Stacey also is a Certified HeartMath® Coach. She and her husband reside in Spartanburg, SC.

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