MAHONING VALLEY Medical training standards vary for 911 dispatchers
Ohio law does not require 911 dispatchers to be certified in first aid or CPR.
By JENNINE ZELEZNIK
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
Because of shows such as "Rescue 911," many people think that when you call 911 for a medical emergency, the dispatcher can tell you what to do until help arrives.
That is not always the case, authorities say.
Ohio law does not require dispatchers at 911 centers to be certified in emergency medical dispatching, said China Dodle, public information officer for the Ohio Department of Public Safety.
In fact, state law doesn't require dispatchers to be trained at all in emergency medical procedures.
Training requirements -- or lack thereof -- are left up to local dispatch centers.
Emergency dispatching: Tim Gladis, director of the Trumbull County 911 network, said most of that county's Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs), such as those in Girard or Niles, require a 40-hour basic emergency dispatching class.
The classes cover the basics of communications center work and teach dispatchers how to handle varyious situations and calls.
The county provides the classes, developed by the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials, to the PSAPs at cost, Gladis said.
"It's not that expensive," he said. "The biggest expense you have is the person's time for them being there."
The Howland-based 911 center doesn't even consider dispatchers for employment without training from that class, he added.
"Our position here is to have the basic training for our dispatchers, and it should be ongoing to keep skills sharp," Gladis said.
Only some areas of Columbiana County offer 911 services; there is no countywide system.
No training required: East Palestine dispatchers do not go through the APCO training; however, many come from police and fire backgrounds and are already certified in first-aid procedures and CPR, dispatcher Brian Rutledge said.
In Mahoning County, 911 dispatchers are trained through the APCO classes.
Maggi McGee, E-911 director, said the state will finance the classes as long as they are taught at local vocational schools or state colleges.
The cost can still be prohibitive to smaller centers, she said.
Even though the state picks up the tab for the class, a center has to consider staffing concerns such as overtime pay for those working while others are being trained.
It's crucial: The necessity of the training, though, cannot be lost in the financial details.
"When people call 911, it could be a life-or-death situation," Gladis said. "We want them to know how to offer help."
Sometimes, even with APCO training, dispatchers cannot yet offer that needed help.
Additional training -- Emergency Medical Dispatching -- teaches dispatchers how to give accurate instructions for purely medical emergencies, McGee said.
Without it, dispatchers are often leery about dispensing advice during the long minutes between the call and the time an ambulance arrives, for fear of being sued if they make mistakes.
"Liability is huge, very huge," McGee, said. "We want to give you as much assistance as possible -- for those few minutes, any amount of time is critical."
Even after the training, dispatchers are not required to memorize every procedure. Instead, they use a computer program or instructional cards to tell callers what to do, McGee said.
In Mahoning County, Austintown and Canfield dispatchers are already certified in EMD, whereas dispatchers in Beaver, Boardman, Youngstown and the main Mahoning County communications center are still going through or beginning training.
Calls transferred: In the meantime, many Mahoning County dispatchers transfer the medical 911 calls directly to ambulance companies, said Dave Fiffick, general manager for Clemente Ambulance Service.
All of Clemente's dispatchers are certified in EMD.
McGee wants to get to the point where 911 dispatchers don't have to worry about whether a call involved the EMD procedure.
"We want to be assured that it's done," she said. "And if it's done in-house, we know we've done everything we possibly can."
Fiffick says dispatchers trained in EMD can truly help in those minutes before an ambulance gets there.
"There's a lot a family member can do -- even start CPR," he said. "A dispatcher can explain how to open airways, how to do the breathing, the pulse. It's saved lives.
"People like having something there to tell you what to do," he said. "They expect it."
No Trumbull County dispatchers have gone through the EMD training, though the county's Joint Committee on EMS is considering a countywide program, Gladis said.
He expects the state to soon mandate dispatcher training, though Dodle said there is no legislation pending.