Dane County 911 dispatchers save lives by administering CPR over phone

Dane County 911 dispatchers save lives by administering CPR over phone

911 dispatchers across Wisconsin are now required to know how to guide callers through CPR over the phone, after Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill into law last week that sets up grants to train emergency communicators.

While that policy is just now becoming state law, it’s something the people taking emergency calls in Dane County have been trained to do for years.

Dane County first responders have proof that every moment counts when someone is having a heart attack. The American Heart Association says the chance of surviving cardiac arrest drops 10 percent each minute, until someone can start CPR. If someone nearby can administer CPR, it doubles or triples the chance of survival.

The new law requires the person answering the phone to be able to direct the caller through CPR or transfer the call to someone who can.

Since 2002, every 911 dispatcher in Dane County has been trained in providing CPR over the phone. The county’s director says last year alone, his employees helped save more than a dozen lives before an ambulance and first responders arrived.

“Thirteen different people just in Dane County survived because of dispatcher CPR,” John Dejung, the Dane County director of Public Safety Communications, told News 3. “Medical directors look at that and they say, ‘Yeah, if the dispatchers hadn’t been providing that, those patients perhaps wouldn’t be here.”

Under the new law, the Department of Health Services will make money available for dispatch centers to train the people taking calls, so they can provide CPR instructions over the phone.

“The bystanders try to get them down, get the patient down on a flat hard surface,” Dejung explained of the CPR instructions. “Make sure that the airway is clear. That is, their head’s tilted back a little bit, so that the airway is good. Make sure there’s nothing in the mouth and then do compressions.”

Dejung said the dispatchers are trained to help make sure the chest compressions are deep and quick enough to be effective.

The lawmakers who wrote the bill say it’s especially important in rural areas where it can take longer for an ambulance or first responders to reach the patient. They add that this law will help not just people going into cardiac arrest, but also people going into respiratory arrest, like someone overdosing on opioids.

On Wednesday night, Dane County’s emergency medical services commission is set to discuss the new law, what it means for dispatchers, and how it will help people living in the county.