When Natalie Rumsby answers a call as a 911 dispatcher, her job ends when first responders arrive on the scene, and the person who called 911 no longer needs her help. It’s not often that Rumsby and her colleagues at the dispatch centre in Victoria hear the outcome of their calls.
That changed for Rumsby last week when a woman from Port Alberni shared her story about performing CPR on her husband thanks to the coaching of a calm 911 dispatcher.
Carol Klock related her story about calling 911 after her husband Jack suffered a heart attack while taking a shower one night in April. Carol—who had never taken a CPR course previously—performed CPR on her husband for 10 minutes while waiting for paramedics to arrive. Carol said an anonymous dispatcher “literally taught me CPR over the phone” and she wanted to thank the woman for helping her.
A colleague of Rumsby’s who was familiar with the call read the story from the Alberni Valley News and let Rumsby know about it.
“It doesn’t happen very often that we get to hear and follow up on what happened,” Rumsby said from Victoria. “Everything’s done over the phone and once you’re done you’re on to the next job. It’s heartwarming to hear that he survived.”
Rumsby said she doesn’t often open up to people about the job that she does—she compartmentalizes it, and when she leaves the dispatch centre for the day, she leaves the job behind. It’s a survival tactic: “right now there’s a lot of compassion fatigue,” she said. “It’s an exhausting job at the best of times,” but the opioid crisis that B.C. has been experiencing has made it even tougher for 911 dispatchers and other first responders.
“There’s days here where we could have seven or eight call-takers and they’re all coaching CPR to people in different communities in B.C.
“As a call-taker/ dispatcher you are often tasked with talking to people on the worst day of their lives, in a moment of crisis, and you depend on them to be your ears, eyes and hands until help arrives,” Rumsby said. “We are trained to help people not only cope with these situations, but in many situations guide them to give life-saving first aid that they would otherwise not know how to do.”
While Carol Klock gives Rumsby all the credit with helping her stay calm, Rumsby said Carol’s ability to stay calm and composed was the most important aspect of helping her husband. “This woman performed those skills in the worst of circumstances, ” Rumsby wrote in a Facebook post about the story. “Thanks to her staying calm and composed and doing the most effective CPR possible, her husband is alive today.”
Rumsby hopes stories such as the Klocks will inspire people to learn how to perform CPR. “I think it’s really important for everyone to take a CPR course, even a hands-only CPR,” she said. “If somebody knows CPR, the second they see someone collapse…it could mean life or death for that patient. I hope it’s something that will become more prevalent in the future.”
Rumsby has worked as a paramedic for almost 16 years. She had been in the job for three years when she visited her mother at a 911 dispatch centre, and was hooked.
“My mom was a dispatcher as well,” says Rumsby. “I was sitting in on off-shifts with her and I liked it.”
Rumsby has been a dispatcher herself for 12 years. She loves the fast-paced multi-tasking that comes with the job, and says the team she works with in Victoria takes calls from all over Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast.
“It’s calls like this that remind me this is what I’m here for; this is why I do what I do…knowing you’re making a big difference like this”
Rumsby has nominated Carol Klock for a Vital Link Award with B.C. Ambulance Service, which recognizes the significant contributions made by citizens during medical emergencies. She hopes that if Carol is given an award that she will be able to meet the Klocks in person.
Jack Klock received his pacemaker/ defibrillator on May 30 and returned home to Port Alberni the next day. For the first time in more than a month he slept in his own bed.