Every day, the emergency medical dispatchers (EMDs) at Parkland Ambulance gather and disseminate the information required for paramedics to successfully assist those in need. While dispatchers may become inundated at times -- sometimes responding to 60 calls in a 12-hour shift -- Marino, nearing her first full year on the job, says she enjoys her work because each call is different.
“No day is ever the same,” she said. “You’re always learning in this job. Things are always changing and you have to adapt to it.”
Calls range from transfers, to emergencies, to course inquiries.
“Lots of the time, there are some pretty crazy calls out there, especially when it’s an emergency,” she said. “Everyone’s going through different things, so something that’s not so bad is pretty bad to someone else.”
Depending on the caller’s issue and reason for assistance, Marino explained that dispatchers determine the questions that need to be asked based on using a variety of card sets that appear automatically on the computer.
“It has certain questions that you ask for certain problems,” she said.
Each EMD is also surrounded by computer screens, one with a GPS map displaying the location, speed and direction of each ambulance, another displaying -- in text format -- the same as well as some additional information from the map and a third that displays the current communication with the 15 different ambulance companies Parkland Ambulance serves.
There are currently 10 trained EMDs at Parkland Ambulance, with plans to hire more, according to Stefanick. All of them are trained to use the computer programs and card system by successfully completing an EMD course.
Even with that knowledge, however, Marino said some calls can be confusing, requiring the other dispatcher on shift to provide some assistance.
“Sometimes people don’t know what they’re calling about,” she said. “They have multiple problems going at once, so it’s not just one that you have to cover.”
Depending on the area, there are also times when ambulances are able to arrive at the scene before the dispatcher and caller end their call.
“We notify the ambulance within 30 seconds of the time of the call,” Stefanick said. “Each ambulance is different, but generally for P.A., the ambulance then has 30 seconds to start responding.”
The length of each call can vary, however. There are times when callers are upset and can benefit from emotional support, according to Marino.
“Even if you’re not asking them questions, you can have a normal conversation with them,” she said.
Dispatchers continuously update paramedics on route to scenes to better prepare and inform them of the situation.
There are always at least two people in the office, which is located on the second floor of the Parkland Ambulance building on Second Avenue West. Shifts are four days on and four days off. Dispatchers take their breaks, including lunch breaks, in the office.
“Sometimes it’s really slow in here, so it’s like a break,” Marino said.
EMDs have the option of accompanying paramedics to scenes in what is known as a “ride along,” though Marino is content with assisting callers by phone from the office.
“If someone is going into cardiac arrest, and you walked somebody through CPR and they brought (the patient) back and (the patient) lived, that’s pretty great,” Marino said.
A need to help people, good communication skills, the ability to multi-task and a strong memory are among the traits needed to efficiently handle the constant changes as an EMD, according Stefanick and Marino.
Stefanick, an EMD with 10 years of experience, added that while the job can be thankless at times, she and her colleagues are aware of the important work they do.