Massachusetts 911 Dispatcher Provides Over-the-Phone CPR Instructions to Save a Life
On a quiet Sunday morning at the Regional 911 Dispatch Center in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, dispatcher Tara Jones-Nutting answered a call: “911, where’s your emergency?”
The caller, a man named Adam, didn’t know. How could he? Miles deep into a bike ride in the Berkshire woods, he and a friend, Robert, had just glanced back to check on a third buddy only to find him on the ground in full seizure. “We have a very serious emergency,” Adam told Tara, who used geocoding to send professional help. “I don’t know how to do CPR,” Adam said, “please send this ambulance quickly.”
Tara knew they were in a very rural area. “There’s not a lot of house numbers. It’s a back country road, there’s no mile markers, there’s nothing,” she says. “I can clearly remember listening to the man on the ground breathe. I’ve been an EMT since I was 18 years old, twentysomething years, and I instantly recognized the agonal respirations. I told Adam, I’m going to give you instructions on how to do CPR.”
Massachusetts requires all 911 dispatchers to be trained in CPR. Tara’s dispatch center uses the American Heart Association’s Basic Life Support and Heartsaver First Aid programs to deliver its training. And while dispatchers also have access to CPR instructions, Tara had the added benefit of having taught CPR classes.
And so it began. “Kneel by his side and put the heel of one hand in the center of his breastbone … .” After more than 70 compressions, Adam said, “We got something!” The victim began to take big gasping breaths on his own — then stopped breathing. Tara directed them to start five rounds of 30 compressions, followed by two breaths, and explained how to check for breathing — all while encouraging them.
About 14 minutes in, the local fire chief and his daughter, who’s an EMT, arrived on scene, followed by another officer, an ambulance and eventually a helicopter that flew the victim to Massachusetts General Hospital. “You guys did a good job, I’m going to disconnect,” Tara told them, not knowing if she’d ever hear the end of the story.
But later in the day, a paramedic who was in the ambulance called the dispatch center for some statistics. He happened to be an old friend of Tara’s from back in her days as an EMT. So she asked about the call, assuming the victim didn’t make it. “No, he did,” her friend told her. He wasn’t a victim, he was a survivor.
Later, Adam contacted the dispatch center to provide an update. When Tara worked up the courage to talk to him, she said, “Hi, this is Tara from Berkshire County.” He replied, “I’ll never forget your voice.”
Looking back, Tara says she’s talked to people she’s helped revive and save before, but this was different. “I wasn’t there to physically do it, so I had to use my voice and their hands as my hands to get them to do what I needed them to do. This was a whole new, different situation for me.”
She uses an analogy to explain how she approaches teaching someone CPR over the phone. “Imagine walking someone through how to tie a shoe when that person doesn’t even know what a shoe is — and you’ve got your back turned to them. So providing very, very basic, step-by-step instruction — finding the midpoint on the chest, doing the compression and making sure they’re doing it accurately.”
Weeks after this incident the survivor hosted a luncheon for all of the first responders, including Adam, Robert and Tara. “It was just such an amazing thing to see him standing there,” Tara says. “There were a lot of tears that day.”
As it turned out, Adam had taken a single CPR class many years ago. “It’s just so important to have that base level of knowledge, just so that CPR isn’t completely foreign to you when you need it,” Tara says. “I stand firm in the fact that I did nothing that day, those two gentlemen that were with him are the heroes at this call, because if they weren’t willing to do what they did, he would not be here.”