I had the fortunate opportunity to deal with a Calgary 911 operator today, Calgary Fire Department and Calgary EMS. I say fortunate not because of the situation, but because of the level of service and professionalism that I witnessed.
Lately the Calgary 911 operators have come under attack for poor service. Today it was the exact opposite. Let me give you some background. I was at work and heading to the washroom. Upon opening the door I noticed a guy squatting beside the garbage can coughing and seemingly struggling to breathe. I casually asked “are you OK man” fully expecting the “yeah I’m cool” response. Instead he replied “NO!” Holy crap; time to enter back into ‘life saver’ mode. I continued to ask him if he’d like me to call someone or an ambulance or what I could get for him. He said that “someone needed to get him help quickly.” That’s all it took and I immediately called 9-1-1 and told him I was doing so. He told me someone had gone back to the call center to talk to someone to have them call. Ummm, last time I checked one of the first rules was to NOT leave someone having difficulty breathing alone. Conversely, if you’re having difficulty breathing DO NOT leave a public area in favour of a private space like a bathroom. You’re less likely to get help where nobody is around.
I stood in the doorway of the men’s bathroom with it propped open while the guy continued to cough and gasp as the phone rang once and was promptly greeted with “9-1-1 operator, for which city?”
“Calgary” I replied, immediately wondering if it was outsourced all of a sudden before resigning to the fact that it probably services all the surrounding communities too like Airdrie, Cochrane, Strathmore, Okotoks, etc.
“What’s the nature of your call?”
That was easy. I told him this guy was busy turning different colors of red and white, having problems breathing and complaining of chest pains. The dialogue went back and forth between myself, the 911 operator and as required the guy on the floor. I kept the door open waiting and watching for people to come by. Finally, after I already had confirmation from the 911 operator that the fire department was en route did the first guy show up and start dialling 911 with a cell phone. Seriously! WTF?!?!? He wasn’t my concern; it was that of the guy on the floor. I know his name, but I don’t want to release that as it still is a bit of a privacy matter. I want him to deal with his issues in private or public, but allow him that choice.
Building security quickly showed up, along with two of the guys team leaders. I sent one downstairs to greet the Calgary Fire Department when they arrived. Security was also on the radio with his colleague and confirmed that CFD was in the building and on their way up. The gave the guy some oxygen, checked blood pressure and listened to his lungs all while getting him to calm down and start breathing more of a natural rhythm. It wasn’t until they arrived the very nice guy at the 9-1-1 facility released me from the line…the other guy was let go pretty quickly once I mentioned to the operator we had multiple calls going in. All this happened in under 10 minutes…15 from the time the first guy came into the bathroom.
About 5 minutes later Calgary EMS showed up to further asses the patient. I’ll now call him a patient as they decided that they were going to take him to the hospital. CFD left and wished him luck after giving a very detailed briefing to the paramedics. It was easy for them to come in. Again, communication comes into play for life and death situations.
Long story short, EMS continued their assessment and loaded him on the gurney for transport and they left. A few things to note from the incident though that I thought would make sense to bring up:
- Don’t leave anyone in duress alone. Open the door, scream for help, or call from the cell phone in your pocket.
- As mentioned above, if you’re in duress, go to a very public, populated place. Someone will help you, I promise.
- When I sent the guy to wait for CFD I got him to repeat back to me what was needed. I also told the operator the floor and area we were in the building in case the guy failed to return.
- Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Yes I said it three times but it’s vital. The three departments communicated to each other but they can only communicate what is given to them. Give it all. As much as you can. The 9-1-1 operator asked questions which I had to ask the guy. It was hard for him to answer, but I wasn’t going anywhere so had the time to wait. By taking that time it made EVERYONE’S job easier; even mine.
Now a quick bit about the guy. He was just diagnosed with asthma last week and had taken two puffs from his ventolin inhaler prior to my arrival with limited benefit. He had smoked for the last 10 years. He was only 25.
Today helped me to realize just how easily life can be taken away. I’m sure he’s fine, though I’m not sure right now but will update once I do. I’ve been calling 9-1-1 on a needed basis for almost the last 20 years (I’m only 32) starting with my dad having an asthma attack. I’d like to think I’m experienced in an area I’d rather not be. The Calgary 9-1-1 operator was by far the best I’ve had to deal with…so cut them some slack.
photo credit: Steve Snodgrass, sfxeric style=”