Emergency Fire Dispatchers are on the forefront of reinforcing and evolving protocol.
And for these two following EFDs, experience and techniques developed over long public service careers reflect their unwavering attention to high standards and consistency of scientifically-proven protocol, as recognized in Dispatcher of the Year (DOY) awards in 2008 and 2019, respectively.
Scott W. Dunkelberger, New Castle County Communications (NCCo), Delaware (USA) reinforced what was in the fire protocol and the personal “know-how” he developed over his career to save four children trapped in a burning building. He was the first EFD to receive the DOY award, superseding by more than 10 years the EFD DOY at NAVIGATOR 2019.
Katerine “K.T.” McNulty, Redcom communication center, California, (USA), combined ingenuity and experience during the wildfires devastating Northern California—prior to her centers use of the fire protocol—that led to changes released in Fire Priority Dispatch System™ (FPDS®) Version 7.0. The DOY award came at the heels of the protocol’s comprehensive revision, and included scripted instructions based on McNulty’s advice from many years in emergency dispatch.
Pam Stewart, IAED Director of Operations, said both EFDs represent their commitment to IAED’s standards, and signify their dedication to public safety in the most trying times.
“With these awards, we are given the opportunity to express gratitude for events separated by time, not magnitude or commitment to the profession,” she said.
On Nov. 13. 2007, Dunkelberger answered a call from a 16-year-old girl who had rushed two younger sisters and baby brother to an upstairs bedroom of their home to escape a fire started by an unattended candle. Dunkelberger gave instructions to close the door and place wet towels to prevent smoke inhalation. Firefighters rescued two children through the second-floor window and carried the other two down through the house.
The children survived, with the oldest crediting Dunkelberger for calming her and convincing her that escape through a second-story window was not a plausible option prior to firefighter arrival.
Dunkelberger said it was all in his voice. He keeps his voice low when providing instructions to panicked callers. “You can’t get excited because that leads to excitement at their end,” he said. “You have to go in the total opposite direction, almost whispering to them so they have to concentrate on what you’re saying.”1
Dunkelberger was IAED™ Dispatcher of the Year in 2008 for the high standards he maintains to “deliver the best help possible,” according to NCCo Chief Jeffrey Miller, who had nominated him.
Dunkelberger started with Delaware State Police emergency communications in July 1989 and five years later, he moved to New Castle County as a police dispatcher, transferring to fire/medical dispatching within the agency in 2000. During the past 10 years, since the DOY award, he was promoted to shift supervisor in fire and medical and he is assigned part-time to the .QA/QI office. He is President of the Odessa Fire Company in Odessa, Delaware, where he has volunteered since 1986.
Katerine “K.T.” McNulty, EFD, was on duty in October 2017 as multiple wildfires propelled by wind and tinder exploded in catastrophic proportions, devastating open land and communities throughout Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, and Lake counties in Northern California. By the end of the 23-day siege, the fast-moving fires and billowing smoke had killed 44 people (including two firefighters), damaged or destroyed 21,000 homes and businesses, and scorched more than 181,000 acres of forests, vineyards, and farmland.
Calls poured into REDCOM, overwhelming the 24 emergency dispatchers who were able to make it to the center from homes already, perhaps, in visible sight of fire and smoke. Most worked 35 hours straight, providing any possible assistance in a multi-jurisdictional battle to combat the massive blaze fueled by high winds and dry landscape.
McNulty’s calls mirrored the other calls coming in. In the audio featured at NAVIGATOR 2019 (during which she was presented the DOY 2019 award), the caller was trapped in her home. “There is fire everywhere,” she cries over the phone. Fire blocked the home’s entrance. Fire engulfed the back of her home. Fire was tearing up the driveway close to the front of her home. The family swimming pool in the back yard, which McNulty advised as possible sanctuary from the fire, was inaccessible.
McNulty never gave up and her advice to escape—rather than shelter in place—and seek refuge in a swimming pool, among other instructions, were integrated into FPDS Version 7.0 Protocol 82: Vegetation/Wildland/Brush/Grass Fire. The Protocol’s Pre-Arrival Instructions (Wildland Fires – Preparations, Trapped/Evacuate) give EFD’s a rescuer role, when necessary, providing lifesaving instructions while firefighters are en route. (See more about these EFD actions in an article scheduled for publication in the July/August issue of the Journal).
1Basiouny A. NCCo Dispatcher wins national recognition. News Journal (Wilmington, Delaware). 2008: May 12. (accessed May 20, 2019, newspapers.com).