By Bob Uphues
It's been two years since West Central Consolidated Communications, the joint emergency dispatch operation more commonly known as WC3, went live. But, this week, the center will roll out its emergency medical dispatch (EMD) service, which will allow dispatchers to provide potentially life-saving instructions to callers and enhanced pre-arrival information to paramedics responding to calls.
EMD was one of the upgrades mandated by the consolidated dispatch law signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner in 2015. The law required municipalities of less than 25,000 people to consolidate emergency dispatch operations with other such communities. Brookfield, Riverside and North Riverside joined forces to create WC3. McCook later joined as a non-voting member of the center.
WC3, which has its own board of directors and an executive director, operates out of the North Riverside Police Department, 2358 Desplaines Ave., where there is now a central booking and lockup facility for all member communities.
The introduction of EMD will result in 911 callers being asked additional questions and given instructions prior to paramedics arriving. While callers might think that the additional questions are delaying the dispatcher from sending paramedics, that's not the case, said Brookfield Fire Chief Jim Adams.
"When people call 911 they may be asked more questions than they are used to," Adams said. "[They may think] their call for help is being delayed, but in actuality they are dispatching simultaneously."
Adams said it was important for people to understand that change, and that when he worked in another community that initiated EMD, "we actually received lots of complaints because people thought the emergency response was being delayed to answer questions."
There are two dispatchers on duty at all times at WC3. While one of the dispatchers is on the phone with a 911 caller, the other is dispatching paramedics to respond. That allows the dispatcher taking the call to get more information and provide instructions to the caller – from walking callers through CPR procedures to giving them information on how to aid someone who's choking or even someone in childbirth.
"The biggest thing is the pre-arrival instructions," said Riverside Fire Chief Matthew Buckley. "They can tell you how to control bleeding. If someone has had a heart attack and there's an AED available, they can walk you through how to use it, how to open an airway, how to deploy an EpiPen.
"The benefits to residents calling the 911 center are going to be huge."
All of WC3's dispatchers went through hours of training for EMD through Loyola University Medical Center and are state certified. They will need to complete continuing education to maintain that certification.
"Often forgotten about in the first responder community is our telecommunicators, who are the true first step in the life saving process," said North Riverside Fire Chief John Kiser. "Now those answering the calls for help are licensed and credentialed similarly to the paramedics and EMTs responding to the calls."
By consolidating dispatch services, small towns like those who are part of WC3 can offer a service they might not have been able to in the past.
"Without the development of West Central Consolidated Communications, I don't believe a community such as North Riverside would have ever been able to undertake EMD due to manpower and administrative oversight constraints," Kiser said.