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Franklin County 911 dispatch needs change

May 8, 2012
By Elizabeth Amell

An open letter to the community:

My letter has two purposes.

First, and foremost, I would like to take the opportunity to thank the members of the Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad, especially Damon, Julie and Dave. A few weeks ago, my son sustained a serious injury which required the assistance of these fine community members, and true to their nature, they were there.

To Damon, you were first to arrive on scene, and your kind, calm demeanor was a great comfort to my little boy. For that, there really are no words to express a mother's gratitude. It meant more than you will probably ever know. To "Dave the Driver," thank you for figuring out where our rural home was despite the obstacles thrown in your path. I hope to begin to rectify that ongoing problem with this letter. And to Julie, not only did you tend to my son's wounds, but you were caring and compassionate to a very frightened and anxious 8-year-old little boy. You took the time to carefully answer every one of his questions so as to keep him as calm as possible. A true feat in and of itself, you managed to reply calmly to every "Are we there yet?"

Then all three of you showed your absolute dedication when you stayed in the Emergency Room until you knew he was stable.

The second purpose of my letter is to shed some light on a problem that I had been unaware of until now. This was our first (and hopefully last) experience with the Franklin County 911 central dispatch system. We do not live in the village of Saranac Lake; however, we do have a county-assigned E-911 address. Yes, it is clearly marked on both the road and the side of our home. With that said, I'll touch upon the inefficient and unprofessional manner in which my 911 call was handled by the Franklin County dispatcher that night.

First order of business for my call was to state my name and E-911-ASSIGNED ADDRESS - mind you, not just any old address but the address given to my property by the very department I was calling for emergency medical assistance. Second, I concisely stated that I was the only adult in the home with multiple children, next that my 8-year-old son had a massive cut on his leg with uncontrolled bleeding. I then gave the dispatcher a brief description of the wound and explained that I had to tourniquet his leg in order to even slow the bleeding. Here was the dispatcher's response: (insert big sigh) "What was that address again?" Obviously, I tell him the 911 address a second time. His reply: "OK, I'm not finding that in my computer, and I'm not too familiar with ... ummmm ... Vermontville? So, where do you live again?"

Now I'm certain at this point that my telling you the details of the rest of that conversation would be an overkill in an attempt at making my point here. I will say this, though: He asked me a third time for my 911 address and still managed to relay the INCORRECT address to the SLVFD driver.

I have done a bit of research and taken an informal poll, if you will, of other community members' experiences with this central dispatch system that we currently have. My experience is not unique, not by a long shot. These types of egregious errors occur multiple times a week. A man I respect greatly asked me a question I've been thinking a lot about. He asked if this is a serious enough problem to pursue, to push to change, keeping in mind that a change would cost taxpayers more money. The errors that dispatcher made that night added four to six minutes to the response time of the rescue personnel because they could not find my home, through no fault of their own. A person can "bleed out" and die in two to three minutes' time.

I've found my answer; have you?

I say yes, it's worth it. If money saves even one life, just one, then yes, it is completely worth it. What if that one life is your son's life ... or your mother's? What if it's your own?

Now I'll stand on my soap box for just a moment more. I'd like to ask that my fellow community members take the time to try and help make this change before the problem does claim a life. Write a letter to your local politician, stand up and comment at a village board meeting, call the emergency services coordinator, or write a letter of support to the editor of the Enterprise. I have to believe that doing something, anything, would be a better than doing nothing at all.

Thank you for your time.


Elizabeth Amell lives in Vermontville.



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