You may hear a small snippet on the news about someone calling 9-1-1, and how the ambulance arrived and the patient survived.

What you don’t hear about is that the dispatcher was on the line for 32 seconds calming the caller down enough to verify the address. Then another 22 seconds trying to determine the emergency. Once the caller was able to calm down enough to talk, dispatch learned that their emergency was a 2-year-old choking on a hotdog. Mom was the caller pleading for help.

What you don’t hear is that mom was instructed on what to do for 111 seconds. Halfway through that time, mom became hysterical because her efforts were not working. Dispatch once again calmed her down and went on to tell her what to do until that third time – when it worked!

Those precious sounds of a child crying rang through the headset like a great triumph. Hearing a child cry is usually a sign of distress. However, when in dispatch, those are glorious sounds, especially if they were not heard at first. When a child cries, that means they are breathing and responding even, if it is the tiniest bit.

Once the child’s airway was clear, the dispatcher stayed on the line with mom making sure the child continues to breath and is responding appropriately. From the time the dispatcher answered the call until the child started to cry was only 165 seconds. Only 165 seconds is just over two-and-half-minutes; 165 seconds of mom holding onto her child, who may not be breathing.

What you won’t see is that the dispatcher was very much there with that mom. They could not physically touch her, but they used their skill in hearing, visualization and adapting to help her. Once that child started to cry in the background, the dispatcher was relieved right along with mom. After a few seconds mom tried to calm the child down so they would stop crying. Instinctively, the dispatcher said “let them cry, that sound is music to our ears.”  

What you won’t see in the background is dispatch working as a team; soon the address and the nature of the call was verified a second dispatcher was notifying the ambulance. This task is becoming more time consuming than it has ever been. With all that is going on in today’s world, these hardworking men and women with the ambulance services are responding nonstop with thinly stretched resources. Sometime the ambulances are already on calls or just unloading a patient at the hospital. When this happens, dispatch must try other surrounding agencies to see if they have an ambulance available to respond. Being as rural as Texas County is, even if the ambulance was available and responding from its base, it could still be a 25-minute drive or longer.

Great timing today – the ambulance crew had just finished disinfecting their ambulance and was ready for the next call. They arrived on scene only seven minutes after the call was received. The dispatcher stayed on task until the ambulance crew walked in and took over care of the child. At that point, what you won’t see is the dispatcher take a sigh of relief.

Here is a small timeline of how a call like this example would have happened.

13:23:00 – Call rings into dispatch, the only information that the dispatcher can make out is: “Help, I can’t, she won’t, now.”

The caller was so distraught she could not get calmed down from crying.

Dispatcher cannot get her – or anyone – help without knowing where they are. It took a few seconds for mom to realize that the dispatcher was talking to her, this helped some in calming.

13:23:31 – Address and phone number is confirmed.

13:23:53 – Confirmed a child is choking. Dispatcher begins protocol instructions.

13:23:54 – The second dispatcher who just finished up with their own call was able to dispatch the ambulance quickly.

13:23:56 – Ambulance advised they were en route. This crew had already had three calls plus a transfer out of the area today.

13:24:48 – Mom is starting to become hysterical, and emotions are taking over again. Dispatcher continues to talk to her and helps to refocus.

13:25:00 – Ambulance asks for an update and is given by the second dispatcher. This crew is already preparing for what they will need and how they will proceed once they get in there with, they child.

13:25:45 – The first cry is heard from the child. Relief throughout dispatch is felt.

13:25:50 – Ambulance is updated on the crying child.

13:30 – Ambulance arrives on scene and is by mom’s side with the child.

It so happens that the dispatcher had a child around the same age, in the moment they did not take the time to think what if this was happing to my child.  Taking themselves out of the situation and becoming the instructor of what needs to be taken care of is easier said than done. This is a skillset that a dispatcher has. They remain on task no matter if it is 165 seconds or 1,200 seconds. Once the task is over no matter the outcome, they take a moment if needed, then it is on to the next call. Even though they go on to take call after call there are many calls, patients, or callers that stay in the back of their mind. 

We often say the phrase that “every second counts.” This is a prime example.

Texas County, you have very dedicated dispatchers, EMS, fire and law personnel. Please take the time to include All First Responders in your thoughts this year as we are still not through this pandemic.

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

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