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'We're able to empower our callers to act:' New dispatch system in Wauwatosa could save more lives

Posted at 8:28 PM, Dec 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-12 21:28:51-05

WAUWATOSA — The Wauwatosa Dispatch Center is utilizing new technology, allowing them to be more efficient and effective in responding to emergency calls.

The system is called Emergency Medical Dispatching (EMD). It's software used in both Milwaukee and West Allis. When calls come in, dispatchers go through a list of protocols to get valuable information so they can help save lives over the phone.

"Potentially, a minute into your call, we could be starting the procedure of getting hands on chest," Tami Engelken, Dispatch Supervisor said. "Before, our city had an amazing response time and still has an amazing response time but I'm narrowing those minutes down and adding to minutes to hands on chest and you're saving that person."

The list of questions starts with the most severe symptoms so they can get help to the person as quickly as possible.

"The two biggies for us are, are they awake and are they breathing?" Engelken said. "If it's no and no, we can start CPR almost immediately."

The dispatchers are CPR certified so they can give detailed instructions over the phone and coach any person through starting the lifesaving process. They need to be EMD certified as well to handle an assortment of different calls.

"CPR, choking and childbirth instructions," Engelken said about some of the things they're able to instruct over the phone. "Or, administering medications like Narcan or EpiPens. We're able to empower our callers to act and perform those instructions and potentially save lives. It has saved lives."

It doesn't end there for the dispatchers. While they're asking questions, they've already dispatched the appropriate people out the door.

In the past, they used to send a paramedic unit to a call just to get those people out of the door as quickly as possible. However, now their line of questioning helps get the best units out so they can be better prepared for the next call.

"Maybe they don't need an emergent transport necessarily because they have a sprained ankle," Engelken said. "We can send one of our heavy pieces like an engine or a truck who has the same qualified staff on there to treat and give them immediate medical attention. Then we can reserve a paramedic unit for maybe my partner's call who has chest pain coming in and we know we have to get them to the hospital immediately. I think it's crucial and the opportunity we have is empowering our dispatchers to give these life-saving instructions before first responders arrive."

The answers dispatchers get and the instructions they give all benefit the emergency crews as they head out. Before the EMD system, they went out to calls with much less information. Now, inside of their vehicles is a touchscreen tablet where they have real-time updates from the dispatchers as they get more answers.

"As we're going en route, we get more and more understanding of the severity of the call or what the nature of the illness is," Chris Sandoval, EMS Division Chief for the Wauwatosa Fire Department said. "It's a great tool for our responders to have this and have an understanding of what we're walking into."

So as they get into their vehicles to head to an emergency call, things are relatively the same as they were before. Crews get notified about an emergency with basic information like location and type of call. Sandoval says on the way to a call, the team would talk out what they need to be prepared for but sometimes they'd arrive and it would be more serious than they had planned for.

"It kind of makes you feel a little nervous because you weren't mentally prepared for that incident or maybe don't have the right resources at that call," Sandoval said. "With this new system, it allows us to focus efforts to the problem that the dispatchers have extracted and apply treatments for that problem a lot quicker. We spend less time on scene and we transport that patient to the most appropriate hospital and, hopefully, effects the overall level of care with a higher level of treatment."

So saving time can help them save more lives.

"Minutes are absolutely crucial," Sandoval said. "That's not lost on any of our paramedics. We want to make sure to deliver the best quality of care but we want to do it int he most time-efficient manner and this system is one of the components that allows us to perform our job better."

Dispatchers back at the police department are more empowered as well to know they can have a significant impact on saving someone's life.

"These are people calling in emergency situations," Engelken said. "They're scared and stressed out and they need someone to take their hand and get them acting and saving lives. Together, dispatchers and our callers, we can do it. We can become the first, first responders."

Engelken says it's important for callers to remain calm on the calls as well. She says they can't help if the caller can't communicate or stay focused. If there is an emergency and you need to call 911, she gave these tips to make sure it goes as smoothly as possible.

Stay on the phone line

"Us speaking to you on the phone is not delaying a response. We're trying to help determine the best and quickest response we're going to get for you. We're sending help so stay on the line."

Give clear and concise information

"We're going to want to know where you are and the phone number you're calling from so we can call back if we get disconnected. [And] we like to know the age or approximate age of the patient."

Try to remain calm and practice patience

"If you hear silence for a moment on our end, understand in our center, we're call-takers and dispatchers. If we're not talking to you, we're probably talking to responders on radio and updating on your situation."


"Listen carefully to what we're saying or asking of you so we can utilize all of that information to provide responders with everything they need for your emergency."