In the basement of McPherson’s Law Enforcement Center, the county’s dispatchers crowded around multicolored flip-books. They were searching their way through various emergency scenarios, coding broken bones and making initial triage decisions on imaginary victims. One at a time each dispatcher would take a “call,” throwing pages back and forth, asking questions that, in everyday emergency situations, could save lives.


In the basement of McPherson’s Law Enforcement Center, the county’s dispatchers crowded around multicolored flip-books. They were searching their way through various emergency scenarios, coding broken bones and making initial triage decisions on imaginary victims. One at a time each dispatcher would take a “call,” throwing pages back and forth, asking questions that, in everyday emergency situations, could save lives.
The session was part of a full day of training for employees of McPherson County Emergency Communications. Dispatchers sat in the room for hours, practicing situations that they are faced with on each shift, learning to ask the right questions.
Instructor Fred Hurtado talked them through a workplace electrocution accident, then began coaching them through a scenario in which 50 students at a local school were suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. He played the role of a school official first dialing 911 for help.
“It takes longer to ask the wrong questions than it does to ask the right questions,” he said.
Hurtado was leading a session introducing dispatchers to emergency medical dispatch. The system works to equip those answering emergency calls with the right questions, helping them discover exactly what is going on in dangerous situations.
Such systems have helped emergency dispatch teams across the world better manage their responses to medical situations. Hurtado said emergency medical dispatch systems were in place in more than 3,000 call centers across the world.
Systems like the one taught to McPherson dispatchers help emergency personnel better interrogate callers for important information. People are often distraught when calling 911, and getting crucial details from them can be difficult.
While the focus of the program is on saving lives, sending the right responders to emergency calls benefits everyone.
“The training will bring an increase in efficiency,” said Darren Frazier, McPherson County communications director. “It reduces liability and the usage of unnecessary equipment, leading to less maintenance on vehicles, lower liability in crashes  — which have happened around here — less gas and an overall preservation of resources.”
The implementation of emergency medical dispatch procedures was encouraged by the McPherson City Commission, emergency medical services personnel and area doctors. By teaching dispatchers to ask time-sensitive questions, governments can save money by checking their response to lesser emergencies. Likewise, such practices help responders and doctors get more information about injured individuals sooner.
“Traditional practice has been to send the closest everything to every call,” Hurtado said. “This matches the level of response to the level of the problem.”
While those responding to emergencies certainly benefit from the system, the greatest gain goes to those actually placing the calls. Emergency medical dispatch employs “structured interrogation” to get necessary information to dispatchers first, allowing them to send help faster. It also teaches dispatchers how best to explain complicated first aid procedures over the phone.
“People often yell over the phone ‘why are you asking me so many questions instead of just sending me an ambulance,” Hurtado said. Those questions that seem so intrusive and unnecessary actually make a big difference in telling dispatchers what type of personnel need to be sent to emergency scenes.
Frazier said dispatchers would be employing the lessons learned in Thursday’s sessions right away. Armed with those resources, he said those calling 911 will get more efficient and accurate responses to emergencies.