Wisconsin 911 dispatchers help save lives, deliver babies

March 19, 2018


In this Jan. 19, 2018, photo, County 911 Communications staff member Courtney Stenzel works at the Rock County Communications Center in Janesville, Wis. She has assisted in two CPR-saves and one childbirth in less than one year working with the county.

JANESVILLE Lives can be saved or lost in seconds.

For dispatchers and telecommunicators at the Rock County 911 Communications Center, every moment counts. Lives hang in the balance as they are connected by what may be a frantic phone call for help.

Approximately 1,000 calls are taken at the center each day. A majority isn't emergency calls, but dispatchers sit ready to coordinate fire and police responses while telecommunicators field 911 calls and render aid.

In their most needed moments, telecommunicators act as a calm and guiding presence on the other end of the phone, providing step-by-step instructions on how to administer CPR or even on how to deliver a newborn a feat two staff members carried out in January.

Courtney Stenzel, 27, of Madison, has only been with Rock County 911 for 10 months. In that time, she has assisted with two CPR-saves and one childbirth.

Ten-year staff member Amanda Johnson, 37, of Janesville, had two CPR-saves and a child birth assist in November 2017.

Both told the Beloit Daily News that their extensive training and support from team members and supervisors paid off during the high stress, chaotic situations.

Stenzel's initial save came the first shift she was working on her own. The staff have a set of itemized placards dedicated to responses for various situations and they read each protocol.

All staff are trained extensively, with most not having backgrounds in law enforcement or medical fields. The rigorous training puts would-be staffers through a multitude of scenarios. They also work with an experienced staff member and complete an aptitude test.

"You could tell it was my first one, because as soon as the caller said, 'He's breathing!' I nearly yelled it back to him like, 'He's breathing!' I got really excited for the fact that the person was responding," Stenzel said.

Most scenarios for "saves" involve patients in cardiac arrest.

"People call us on their worst days," Stenzel said. "People don't call 911 because they are having a good day. It's about getting callers to listen to you. That's why these saves are tough."

Her second save came a month later.

"Everything you say is so crucial in that time," Stenzel said. "People are trying to save their loved ones from imminent death sometimes, it really matters to them that we are there for them."

Assisting in child births is rare, but on Dec. 22, Stenzel was training on third shift when a call from a father came in.

"I was thrown off because it typically happens when a mother is home alone," Stenzel said.

The father, Luke Jenson, listened carefully to Stenzel for instructions in assisting his wife Tatianna Jenson deliver their son, Oakley, who was named after Tatianna's maiden name.

Luke Jenson said as soon as his wife's water broke, he scrambled to get everything ready.

"When it came time to assist my wife to our car she expressed that there wasn't enough time," he said. "I immediately called 911 and six minutes later Tatianna was holding our baby boy."

Luke Jenson added that Stenzel's presence on the call helped the couple focus.

"(Stenzel) was extremely cool, calm and collected," Luke Jenson said. "She did a fantastic job of walking us through the process and reassured us that everything was going to be OK. The first responders were awesome as well. We couldn't have asked for a better team of people on our special day."

Tatianna Jenson said the day was magical.

"Emotions were running high to say the least, but I was in a truly euphoric state," she said. "We were so excited that we were finally going to be face-to-face with the little stranger that we had waited 40-plus weeks to meet; in complete awe that it was happening the way it was."

On the other end of the line, Stenzel said she couldn't wait to hear young Oakley's cries.

"I got tingly when I heard that baby cry, it was wonderful," Stenzel said. "I've seen a baby be delivered before, but to hear that after I gave someone instructions, it was so impactful."

Of Luke Jenson's performance, Stenzel said "he did really well, he was great."

She and Johnson both said staff have to separate their work from their families, with both saying they like to stay active outdoors. Stenzel plays basketball, volleyball and softball, while Johnson enjoys hunting and fishing with her husband.

Stenzel said in her short time working at the center, it's changed her.

"One night I left here and I got really anxious at home," Stenzel said. "But you overcome that. You can't live like that. You have to get perspective. I understand where people are coming from, I've learned how to talk to people better. I am stricter with my family members and their health now."

She added that she "found purpose" working at the center.

Johnson began working for the center after spending nearly a decade in the U.S. Air Force. In her 10 years with Rock County 911, she never had a save or helped with a childbirth up until late last year.

"When you are in the moment you almost don't recognize the chaos and you have so much backup and training to fall back on. You have other dispatchers," Johnson said. "November was a busy month for me."

The mother of a 17-year-old daughter, Johnson said her experience helping instruct the child birth accounted for all the stressful or traumatic calls of the past year.

"It was a different experience," Johnson said. "The minute you hear the baby crying, it's a relief. All of the bad calls I took in the past year washed away. It made up for the bad calls."

Dispatchers are an often overlooked part of the first responder network, and both said they appreciated it when callers would follow up after incidents.

"Before I started, I didn't think twice about call takers or dispatchers," Stenzel said. "I feel like we are overlooked sometimes, but we are the first key point of contact that's the most important and vital lifeline right away before any first responders get out there."



Associated Press