Posts Tagged Cindy Barbera-Brelle

Dispatcher faulted for actions during drowning incident

The Chicago Tribune has an article about a Northwest Central dispatcher that was disciplined subsequent to an investigation into an incident from this past July in Arlington Heights.

A dispatcher who mishandled a 911 call from an elderly man as his car sank in a pond was on vacation weeks earlier when her boss requested that all dispatchers review water rescue protocols, officials said.

Henry Laseke, 89, drowned after driving his Cadillac into the pond next to his Arlington Heights home July 25. A recording of his 911 call showed the Northwest Central Dispatch worker who took the call did not advise him to try to get out of the sinking SUV, an apparent violation of the agency’s protocol.

The dispatcher, Dawn Brezwyn, was given a three-day suspension after an internal inquiry and received additional training, according to agency records and officials.

“Your actions exhibit a breakdown in performance along with not adhering to the (National Academies of Emergency Dispatch’s) Code of Ethics and Conduct,” Brezwyn’s disciplinary notice, dated Aug. 27, reads in part.

The inquiry found that Brezwyn repeatedly entered the wrong codes into the dispatch system — later telling investigators that she did not know the proper code, records show. She fumbled with a computer program and didn’t use resources that would have guided her in the call, according to the notice.

Brezwyn, who could not be reached for comment, also had not completed a review of water rescue protocols that had been requested of all dispatchers in late June.

Northwest Central’s executive director, Cindy Barbera-Brelle, acknowledged that supervisors did not track which dispatchers had completed the requested review, which included a practice call for someone in a sinking vehicle.

“It’s really an opportunity for the dispatcher just to refresh their memory,” she said.

After questions from the Tribune, agency officials confirmed late Tuesday that they have begun tracking the completion of self-training exercises.

Agency documents suggest that Brezwyn’s actions did not slow the response time, as other calls reporting the same emergency came in seconds earlier, summoning the police and fire departments.

Pat Dollard, assistant director of technical services, also noted that it was clear from the calls that a bystander had gone into the pond to try to rescue Laseke, “which makes it very probable that he would have been attentive to that person’s attempts at assistance and direction instead of the call.”

No one else at the dispatch agency was disciplined in the incident, officials said.

It marked the second time this year that disciplinary action was taken against Brezwyn, records show. In January, she received a written reprimand for failing to dispatch Rolling Meadows police to a medical call involving an unconscious man, though paramedics were called to the scene, records show. The man later died.

The agency has about 70 dispatchers who field, on average, more than 1,000 calls daily from 16 suburbs.

“(Brezwyn’s) missteps are not representative of the training that she received and the performance of other dispatchers,” Dollard said.

Arlington Heights officials said the village annually pays Northwest Central about $1 million to handle its calls, and there are no discussions about leaving the system.

“The center functions well 99 percent of the time. It is economically feasible for the municipalities and generally serves the public quite well,” said Village Manager Bill Dixon.

After returning from vacation, Brezwyn logged 76 on-the-job hours before taking the call from Laseke. Though she initially told agency officials during the inquiry that she didn’t recall the self-training request, records show, she also said she had been too busy during those shifts to complete the training exercises.

After Laseke’s death, all Northwest Central dispatchers were required to complete a full review of protocols for less-common but high-risk incidents, including water rescues, and this month they will attend a class on the computer system that helps guide 911 calls.

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Car into pond in Arlington Heights 7-25-13 (more)

The Chicago Tribune has an article about a followup investigation into the handling of an incident last week where an elderly man drowned after driving his car into a local pond.

The emergency dispatcher who took a 911 call from an Arlington Heights man after he drove his car into a pond last week did not advise him to try to get out of the sinking vehicle, apparently in violation of the dispatch agency’s protocols.

The elderly man was rescued after [fire department divers] broke through a window, but he was pronounced dead a short time later. Some safety experts said that getting him out of the car before it became totally submerged would have been his best chance for survival.

Now, the dispatch agency that handled the six 911 calls about the accident — including the minutes-long conversation with the victim, Henry Laseke, 89 — has launched an inquiry to determine if “all standards and protocols were met,” according to a statement by Northwest Central Dispatch System.

In a recording of Laseke’s call, the dispatcher is heard asking him repeatedly for his address. The dispatcher tells him to calm down and that help is on the way.

Two minutes into the call, Laseke pleads one last time: “Hurry up, I’m sinking. The water is coming up …”

At no time did the dispatcher advise Laseke to try to open his car door or window or otherwise attempt to get out of the car.

But such instructions are part of the protocol for sinking vehicles developed by Priority Dispatch Corp., a Utah-based company that provides emergency protocols and training to Northwest Central’s 70 dispatchers.

“When somebody drives into the water and makes a 911 call, (the dispatcher would) tell them: ‘Unfasten your seat belts, open the car door and get out of your vehicle,'” said Michael Thompson, a consultant for Priority Dispatch Corp. “Anything else is counterproductive.”

Cindy Barbera-Brelle, executive director of Northwest Central, confirmed that Priority’s protocols are used by her agency, though she declined to comment on the specifics of the Arlington Heights incident.

Priority is “in the business of defining the protocols, and we follow them as they are written,” she said. “Those are the protocols that we have available to refer to, to follow when we’re processing calls.”

The incident happened about 7 a.m. Thursday, when Laseke apparently lost control of his 2013 Cadillac SUV and ended up in 8-foot-deep retention pond near his home. Neighbors say they saw Laseke talking on a cellphone inside the SUV as it bobbed in the water.

Speaking generally, Thompson said dispatchers typically do seek an address for most emergencies. But he said a sinking car requires a different response.

“Any agency that is not prepared to deal with that is probably doing their customer a disservice,” Thompson said.

Nationally, there are no mandatory standards for emergency dispatch protocols, experts said. But they added that most agencies follow common guidelines concerning emergency medical incidents, such as what steps to take if a person appears to be having a heart attack, experts said.

A sinking vehicle would be defined as a “technical rescue” that requires a special skill set and is not usually included in general guidelines for dispatchers that are provided by the National Fire Protection Association, said Ken Willette, a division manager for the Quincy, Mass.-based organization, which develops standards used by fire departments.

The Arlington Heights police and fire departments are also reviewing the incident.

Fire Chief Glenn Ericksen said he couldn’t speak to whether dispatchers are obligated to instruct callers on how to get to safety. But he said there are two crucial instructions to give someone in a sinking car: Undo the seat belt and open a window.

The National Safety Council said hundreds of people die each year due to vehicle submersion.

In such a situation, the focus should always be on escape — vehicles can sink in seconds, quicker than emergency crews can arrive on the scene, said John Ulczycki, a vice president with the council, who said he would have asked Laseke whether or not he could swim to safety.

A previous post about this incident can be found HERE.

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