What a great evening; snow is falling, and the final touches of decorations have been completed. Fire is crackling in the fireplace, cookies baking in the oven. All as it should be on a picturesque Christmas Eve.

This will be the first time that the Claws family will get to host Christmas in their new home. Joe and Mariah bought land and built their home in the wonderful Ozarks. They chose the spot for their house very carefully; it is sitting on a ridge overlooking a nice meadow. The driveway is a little bit longer than they like, but it is a pretty drive, lined with pine trees. They plan on spending the afternoon and evening watching deer play in the field below, drinking hot chocolate while waiting for the families to arrive from the airport. They mention how grateful they are for everything coming together in time for a Christmas to remember.

About 25 miles away, three dispatchers sit in the dispatch center, answering emergency and non-emergency calls, providing pre-arrival instructions and dispatching responders. It has been a busy shift with no end in sight.

The phone rings into dispatch…

Dispatcher: “9-1-1, where is your emergency?”

Caller: “Uhh, here I need you here now I don’t think we can make it in. Please hurry, she is in labor! It’s too early, but she is in labor!”

Dispatcher: “Sir, I need you to calm down for me. Tell me your address.”

Caller: “We just got it – we just moved in; I have it here somewhere. Just get here; we need help she is having a baby!”

Dispatcher: “Sir, I want you to take a deep slow breath. I’m going to ask some questions and together we are going to figure out your address.”

The dispatcher was able to talk to the caller, Joe, and locate his address with the help of the dispatch map. Joe’s address, phone number and name were all verified. It was determined that Joe’s wife was in labor with their first child. She is about a month early, has had no complications, and all was on schedule until now.

Dispatcher: “Joe, I want you to get right by your wife.”

Joe: “Mariah – her name is Mariah. I’m here with her now. What do I do? She’s in pain; she’s having a contraction.”

Dispatcher: “Joe, I need you to listen to me carefully while I tell you what to do.”

The dispatcher gives Joe instructions on what to do next.

Joe: “OK, we took those classes, but that was in the hospital – we need to be in the hospital! Where is the ambulance?”

Dispatcher: “Joe, you are doing great and those classes you took will help you and Mariah anywhere, not just the hospital. My partner has already notified an ambulance, but I’m going to be honest with you Joe, the snow is really coming down and it will be a little bit before they get there. They had just dropped off another patient at the hospital and are heading your way.”

Joe: “Oh, no! Our driveway it is probably covered and may be difficult to make it down, I hope they have four-wheel drive.”

While Dispatcher 1 was talking with Joe, giving him instructions as the contractions came and went, the other two dispatchers were dispatching and updating the ambulance and handling other calls. Since there may be an issue with the ambulance getting down the driveway, they also sent the local fire department. The fire department had only been back at the station for about 20 minutes from clearing a chimney fire. These volunteer men and women have had two other calls for their department alone today, and they respond without hesitation to this call for help.

The fire department and ambulance are updated about it being a long, gravel driveway that has not been cleared since it started snowing.

Joe: “Are they here yet? I think something is happening; she’s having another contraction.”

Dispatcher: “Joe, are you sure she is having a contraction? It has only been two minutes since her last one.”

Joe: “Yes! Get here now!”

Dispatcher: “Joe, ‘am going to need you to get a few things ready just in case the ambulance doesn’t make it there in time.”

Joe: “What, what do you mean if they don’t make it? Are they coming?”

The dispatcher explained to Joe that the ambulance and fire department both were coming. However, the weather is not the best so it may take a little longer. Joe did as instructed and gathered the supplies, just in case they were needed. He also followed the dispatcher’s instructions to check on Mariah, along with relaying instructions to her.

The fire department reported they were at the driveway, and it was covered but they believed they were going to make it through.

Dispatcher: “Joe, the fire department just turned down your driveway, and the ambulance is just a little bit behind them.”

Joe: “Tell them to hurry – please hurry!”

Dispatcher: “I need you to make sure your door is unlocked.”

Radio traffic from the fire department reveals that a tree has fallen across the driveway. The fire department advised dispatch that it will take a little time to get it cleared. Dispatch acknowledged the traffic and gave a patient update to the responding ambulance.

Dispatcher: “Joe, listen to me: You are doing a great job and I need you to hang in there just a bit more. The fire department must clear a tree out that fell across the driveway.”

Joe: “OK. The door is unlocked, and I can see their lights. I think the baby is coming!”

Fire department personnel advise dispatch that the drive is clear and they are proceeding to the house.

Dispatcher: “Joe, I need you to tell me what is happing. Why do you think the baby is coming, what is happing? Joe? Mr. Claws?

Joe did not answer the dispatcher. However, the voices of the ambulance crew were heard talking to both Mariah and Joe. Knowing that help was there, the dispatcher released the line. After being in the house for less than 10 minutes, the ambulance crew announced on the radio that they were clearing scene, en route to the hospital with mom, dad and baby, and all – including dad – are doing fine.

As the ambulance pulls out of the driveway, all the family from the airport waits to pull in. Joe looks out of the back window of the ambulance, recognizing the family. As the family stops, the firemen inform them of what has happened. Now there is an ambulance followed by excited new grandparents on the way to the hospital! This indeed is a Christmas to remember.

This call scenario may seem to be a little embellished, but not as much as you may think. There have been many calls involving a fire department or law enforcement agency helping with medical issues – anywhere from clearing a path in a driveway to even driving the ambulance crew into a scene.

A few things to keep in mind: The dispatchers went on to answer and handle other calls. Those volunteer firefighters had been going for hours, but they answered the call. That ambulance crew had already responded to 10 emergencies that day, but they answered the call. These fire, EMS and law officers are just as dedicated as the dispatchers are to the citizens of Texas County. While each department had their separate emergencies to respond to, dispatch answers the call to all emergencies.

When you sit down with your families, please think of all the responders that are rearranging their time to answer your call.

On behalf of Texas County 9-1-1, Merry Christmas!

The Texas County Emergency Services office in Houston is funded by a 3/8-cent countywide sales tax approved by voters in 2013. Assistant director Terra Culley can be reached by phone at 417-967-5309 or by email at terraculley911@hotmail.com.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Contact him by phone at 417-967-2000 or by email at ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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