Questions — and answers — about the county’s emergency dispatch system
The county’s 911 emergency dispatchers take hundreds of calls a year. Chances are that sooner or later one of those emergencies may involve you or a loved one. So, do you know when you should call 911? What can you do before an emergency medical services (EMS) team arrives? How to help the EMS team find your location easily? And where might they take you?
Harold Beebout, former president of the Rappahannock County Fire & Rescue Association, answered these and other questions in a Rapp at Home-sponsored community event on Sept. 16. Beebout is also a long-time Emergency Medical Technician and volunteer ambulance driver for the Sperryville Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company.
“You should call 911 for any life threat, such as a heart attack, stroke, significant trauma or injury, loss of consciousness, or serious illness — or if you suspect any of these conditions are happening,” Beebout explained, speaking from the Sperryville Rescue Squad ambulance bay. Don’t be afraid to call. The emergency dispatchers take all calls seriously, even from people who call because they are just lonely, which happens from time to time, he said.
When you call, the emergency dispatcher will ask a series of questions, such as when any symptoms started. This is important, Beebout said, as “some conditions — such as strokes — need to be treated within a very short period of time.” After you call 911, the dispatcher will remain on the phone with you to give you further directions.
Of the six EMS companies around the county, normally the one nearest to you will respond, unless the patient needs specialized cardiovascular attention. EMTs at four county EMS companies have this level of training and equipment.
As for where the ambulance will take you, Beebout explained that most times you will be taken to a local hospital of your choosing. But for issues requiring specialized heart or trauma treatment, the rescue squad will take you to the most appropriate hospital. (EMS services are provided at no out-of-pocket expense for Rappahannock residents. Some of the cost of specialized services, such as being airlifted, may be covered by health insurance.)
Helping the rescue squad find you
Beebout emphasized that in an emergency, “every minute lost by EMS trying to find your house puts the patient at higher risk. Those [blue or green] reflective house number signs help rescuers find locations in the dark and in bad weather.” He encouraged everyone to post a reflective sign at the end of their driveway. He pointed out that Rapp at Home, a nonprofit that serves the needs of Rappahannock seniors, will order and install the signs.
He shared additional tips to help you help rescuers and other medical personnel:
Keep a list of medications, allergies, and medical conditions for everyone in the house in an obvious place, say, posted on the fridge in the kitchen.
Also post a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) notice or Advanced Directive, if you have them. EMS is required to start CPR and resuscitation efforts unless you explicitly indicate on the official DNR form that you do not want resuscitation performed. Beebout suggested that everyone discuss with their doctor and family members the need for these documents.
Don’t try to drive yourself or anyone else to the hospital. EMS staff perform many functions and tests as soon as they arrive and while the patent is in the ambulance. EMTs also alert the hospital that the ambulance is on the way.
During the session, an actual emergency dispatch call came over the sound system in the bay, giving attendees a taste of EMT life. Beebout explained that the call was for a neighboring region.
One attendee at the session told of his experience calling 911. The EMS crew treated him kindly and professionally, and performed numerous assessments, including an EKG, before they decided to take him to the hospital. It turned out he did not suffer a heart attack, but he agreed with Beebout that calling 911 was the right thing to do.
Joyce Wenger is President of Rapp at Home. To order a reflective sign, call Rapp at Home at 540-937-4663.