A Barnstable County (Mass.) dispatcher’s handling of a 911 call reporting a choking victim was “outrageous,” according to a national expert, and the dispatcher’s near silence during the call was “dispatcher abandonment.”
Brent McFarland dialed 911 last month when he found his fiancée choking on a marshmallow, but received little advice during the 12-minute call. During three periods of nearly two minutes each, the dispatcher said nothing, and didn’t respond to McFarland’s pleas for help. His fiancée Kate died at the hospital after EMS units were delayed, possibly by confusion over McFarland’s house address.
Dr. Jeff Clawson, considered the father of emergency medical dispatch (EMD), told a reporter he was “dumbfounded” by the dispatcher’s unresponsiveness in the face of a completely correctable emergency. “A child could’ve help that man,” he said. County officials have been tight-lipped about the incident, but did say dispatchers are trained in EMD through an Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) program. Read more about the incident and listen to the 911 call here.
Update: The local newspaper obtained the county’s dispatcher training manual, and the reporter wrote that the dispatcher did not follow many of the procedures in the manual, including EMD procedures. The county sheriff would not say if the unnamed dispatcher who answered the call has been fired or otherwise disciplined.
McFarland called for the dispatcher to be charged criminally for not giving medical instructions. Update 2: On Dec. 31, 2010 county sheriff James Cummings wrote Mashpee selectmen to say dispatcher Rhonda Colburn, who handled the incident, resigned Dec. 27th. Colburn was an 11-year veteran with the rank of sergeant. Cummings said Colburn resigned before a disciplinary board was convened to hear the results of an investigation into the incident. In a statement later issued by the town of Mashpee, the fire department’s response was set out:
53 seconds to transfer McFarland’s 911 call from county to MFD. The average is 1:10.
1:49 for firefighters to leave the station, the same as the average
6:30 to arrive at the house, average is 4:30
The total response time from the initial 911 call was 9:12. Without the delay, the time would have been 7:12, or about 3:12 beyond what’s considered the time for a person to suffer effects from not breathing.
Officials said bad weather and a neighbor flagging firefighters down at the wrong address.
County dispatchers, including the one who handled the recent 911 call placed by a Mashpee resident who said his fiancée was choking to death, have resources at their disposal with specific instructions on how to handle such emergencies.
County dispatchers, including the one who handled the recent 911 call placed by a Mashpee resident who said his fiancée was choking to death, have resources at their disposal with specific instructions on how to handle such emergencies, according to the Barnstable County Sheriff's Office and the firm that provides its training and protocols.
Brent McFarland, who owns a home in Mashpee, claims his fiancée, Kate, died in his arms after choking on a marshmallow early in the morning of Sept. 4. Her last name is being withheld from Times' reports at the request of her family.
He alleges the dispatcher did not provide proper instructions during his 911 call. He also alleges the town contributed to Kate's death because rescuers were delayed in finding his Jackbon Road home, which abuts a private road formerly named Carter Lane.
The Times obtained the county dispatcher training manuals, policies and procedures after making a public records request. The manuals, created by Florida-based American Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO), are given to every Barnstable County dispatcher as part of their mandatory training.
Early in the 12-minute recording of the 911 call, McFarland can be heard telling the dispatcher that Kate is choking. The dispatcher asks whether he knows the Heimlich maneuver and, after a pause, asks his name. After a few seconds he says, "Yes, I'm trying to give her mouth-to-mouth." The dispatcher does not mention the Heimlich again.