911 dispatchers help protect first responders during coronavirus pandemic

Posted at 12:21 PM, Apr 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-08 14:17:19-04

MILWAUKEE — 911 dispatchers might be easily overlooked as the world fights the coronavirus, but Waukesha County's Preparedness Director says they're an important buffer between the public and our first responders who are at risk of being exposed to the potentially deadly virus.

"We have two clients, if you will, in the 911 center," said Gary Bell, Waukesha County's Emergency Preparedness Director. "The citizens and the first responders and we're really the conduit between the two to make sure all are safe."

In the past few weeks, as COVID-19 cases spread throughout the state, training has kicked in at the Waukesha County Communications Center. The Emerging Infectious Disease Surveillance tool and the Emergency Medical Dispatch Pandemic Protocol are now in full effect.That means every person who calls 911 will be asked two questions.

"'Do you have COVID-19 related symptoms?' And, 'have you been in contact with someone who has tested positive COVID-19?' So, we're collecting on that on every call, not just EMS but, police and fire calls as well." said Bell.

The answers to those questions help determine who responds to the calls and what steps are taken to keep the risk of exposure to first responders low upon their arrival.

Bell said a nationwide shortage of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) makes the communication and information provided by the dispatcher to the crew responding to a scene even more critical.

"I think this is showing how essential 911 telecommunicatiors are," said Bell.

Now, as the nation waits for the spread of the virus to peak, leaders say dispatchers are essential to determining whether callers are reporting true emergencies.

"If you don’t believe you need an ambulance to come to your house and take you urgently to the hospital, 911 Is probably the wrong call," said Bell.

Instead, officials are asking everyone to take advantage of the telehealth tools provided by doctors and information resources like 211, that are available to help answer questions. Still, they say in a true emergency, don't hesitate.

"People shouldn’t be afraid to call 911. They should call if they have concern for themselves or their loved one's health," said Bell.

Overall, Waukesha County dispatchers have seen a drop in the number of calls they've been receiving county wide.

Over a seven day span, there were 400 fewer calls when compared to the same time last year. Leaders say it could be because people are following the governor's "Safer-at-Home" order, which is a sign people are doing their hope to help flatten the curve and lessen the spread of COVID-19.

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