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Q and A can be a matter of life or death

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By Carol A. Clark

A woman suffering a seizure on her kitchen floor doesn’t need an elite team of high angle rescuers trained to scale 200-foot canyon walls suiting up in full gear to rush to her aid. This is but one example of the many ways failure to carefully question 911 callers can lead dispatchers to route incorrect responders and waste emergency resources.To avoid this, Los Alamos fire and police dispatchers at the Consolidated Dispatch Center (CDC) use an advanced emergency medical dispatcher software system called ProQA. The priority dispatch system takes into account the non-visual nature of the medical dispatch environment, where patients must be assessed and treated by remote control. It meets or exceed international standards for emergency medical dispatching.ProQA provides the latest in pre-hospital patient care and during the course of an emergency medical call, guides dispatchers through the process of collecting vital information, choosing the proper dispatch level and instructing the caller with medically approved protocols until the appropriate dispatched units arrive at the scene. “Before, we always dispatched a rescue, a medic and an engine,” said Los Alamos Assistant Fire Chief/Fire Marshall Mike Thompson. In contrast, “this system is a very scientific approach with how the questions mold quality answers.”The system is designed to provide top service and speed with correct dispatch levels typically determined within one or two minutes, said Los Alamos Police Capt. Randy Foster. “When a person is panicked, a minute can seem like a long time,” Foster said. “But the time that minute or two saves afterwards is invaluable.”LAPD Lt. Chuck Ney has managed the CDC since July. “The nature of the call dictates the line of questioning and whether the call goes to fire, EMS or police,” Ney said. “Also, whether flashing lights and sirens are needed and whether numerous vehicles or just one are required.”Ney explained that every CDC dispatcher is medically trained and qualified to provide initial assistance to patients and initial assessment to responders. They’ve all received 40 hours of emergency medical dispatch instruction to enable them to operate ProQA. They are certified by the state through the Department of Health and also hold CPR certifications. The dispatchers work through a script of specifically designed questions. “To maintain their certification, they are required not only to ask specific questions, but to ask them in a specific order,” Ney said. Dispatcher Wendy Strain said some callers are “real good about it and others become frustrated because they don’t understand the purpose.” “I think the program is great because it lets us give the responders an idea of what they’re walking into – whether it’s a broken ankle or a femur fracture,” she said. “It also recommends an EMS if needed and will save that resource if it’s not needed.”Ney asks the public to understand that the dispatchers are trying to help them and to be patient and allow dispatchers to ask their questions in a quick and efficient manner.Sgt. Fred Rascon supervises the CDC, which is a collaboration between the National Nuclear Security Administration, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Los Alamos County. The CDC is located in the Emergency Operations Center at Technical Area 69. It currently has 10 dispatchers. There are openings for six more and anyone interested in filling one of those openings should apply through the county’s human resources department.