That thump everyone heard was daddy falling down.
When Riverside resident Julia Rhoads jumped out of bed about 4:30 a.m. on Nov. 8, 2015, she found her husband, Alex, face down on the floor, unresponsive.
As she tried to revive him, Rhoads called out to her three children to call 911. Answering that call was her daughter, 9-year-old Vera Brenneman, whom police, fire and village officials recognized on Jan. 21 for springing to action and calmly making an emergency call like a pro.
“Something happened to my dad and he’s not waking up,” Vera said to Riverside Communications Officer Deana Wetzler, the department’s midnight shift dispatcher for the past five years.
“She was so calm for being a little kid,” said Wetzler, who added that dispatchers are trained to remain calm when taking 911 calls, talk slowly and keep the party on the other end of the line calm so they know what to do.
Vera made that part of Wetzler’s job easy. Following Wetzler’s cues, Vera was able to confirm that her father was breathing and open the front door for paramedics who were on their way.
When the call ended about three minutes later, Vera signed off with a cheery, “Good night.”
Police Chief Thomas Weitzel said last week that Vera’s 911 call was the first one he could remember that a dispatcher singled out for the recognition.
Lieutenant William Gutschick, who followed up on the incident, wrote in a memo to Weitzel earlier in January, “Everyone has some type of fear when it comes to a loved one needing emergency medical help. However, Vera Brenneman, at the young age of 9, handled this medical emergency more calmly than most adults would have.”
What had happened that night, according to Alex Brenneman, is that he’d contracted food poisoning and, after three hours of misery, was so dehydrated that when he stood up, he blacked out. He landed, face first on the floor, chipping a tooth in the process. He doesn’t recall all the fuss that followed.
“When I heard it, I came out and found him on the floor,” said Rhoads. “I called out to the kids to call 911. Vera did it and handled it beautifully.”
Asked how she remained so calm after being suddenly awakened and being confronted by the sight of her dad lying on the floor unconscious, Vera was philosophical.
“I really didn’t know what was going on,” Vera said. “I just went to Daddy’s office and used the phone.”
At a ceremony at a meeting of the Riverside Village Board on Jan. 21, Weitzel played an edited version of Vera’s 911 call and presented her with an award on behalf of both the police and fire departments to recognize her coolness in a stressful situation.
“This is a success story because her dad is standing here next to us,” Weitzel said. “It was a serious medical condition.”