By Audrey Fraizer
There’s a lot to be said for working in public service at a place where you can point to a home—no matter where it is on your town’s map—and know the names of the people who live there.
It’s not that Teresa Ogle would do her job to a lesser standard if she had taken her career to a PSAP other than Madison County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in Marshall, N.C.
“I love what I do,” she said.
And don’t think for a second it would make a difference anyplace else.
A small, close-knit community, however, can make the call more personal.
In Madison County, with a population of 21,000, the call could easily come from a family member, neighbor, or someone who graduated from the same high school class or frequents the same diner.
“You never know what’s going to happen with the next call,” said Ogle, who grew up in rural Spring Creek in Madison County and now lives in Marshall within sight of the 911 center. “You always have to be prepared. We’re family here.”
A majority of the residents (55 percent) work outside the county, driving to Tennessee or any of the three counties at Madison’s borders, according to County Manager Forrest Gilliam, who has lived there most of his life. The county’s largest cities—Mars Hill, Marshall, and Hot Springs—provide industrial and commercial employment; however, most jobs are either in government or with the schools.
Most people like Gilliam tend to stay in the area.
“It’s home,” Gilliam said. “It’s a good place to live. I love the way you know just about everybody and how we take care of one another.”
Madison County’s rural setting draws tourists to experience the outdoors or, at least, admire the colorful bouquet of leaves from a passing car in the fall. The Appalachian Trail winds through Pisgah National Forest, which makes up a quarter of Madison County’s 450 square miles of land, and the French Broad River beckons to white-water rafters. Natural mineral water baths in the town of Hot Springs are the ideal venue after a hard day hiking, boating, biking, or horseback riding in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
As beautiful as the area might be, it is not the setting for the fictional “The Bridges of Madison County,” which was also originally a Robert Redford project.
“We get calls from people asking if we are,” Gilliam said. “There are at least 12 Madison counties in the country, and it’s not us.”
During any season, views of the rugged and heavily forested terrain from any angle are stunning, and Ogle and her staff had an unobstructed and solitary venue for the sights.
“All I had to do was step outside the door of the double-wide (trailer) where we had our 911 center,” Ogle said. “We were at the top of a hill—beautiful.”
In 2012, the views came down from the top of a hill. The county completed a civic center accommodating the sheriff’s office, jail, and start-of-art EOC. The trailer was gutted for storage. Communication equipment complementing current and anticipated 911 demands gave Ogle the confidence to give the Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS) another, harder thought.
“We talked about the Medical Protocols for years, and I was never aboard,” she said. “We’re a small center, and we had only one person on at a time. In my mind, I couldn’t see how one person could handle CPR, baby delivery, or any instruction while at the same time be responsible for answering the other calls coming in and dispatching response. Couldn’t be done.”
Ogle checked around to find out if that truly was the case.
“It wasn’t,” she said. “We could do this, and it was time to move forward.”
They took the MPDS plunge in 2013, and, in retrospect, she said, “We should have done this a lot sooner.”
Madison County EMS Medical Director Stace Horine, M.D., said Ogle assumed a “huge performance” initiative that has improved EMS for the public, and though he resists any recognition for the effort, he was “certainly supportive” of her goal.
“I know cultural change was a big part of the challenge, and she was able to accomplish this seamlessly,” he said. “It was hard since there is always a tendency to go back to old habits in the rush of an emergency.”
Horine credits the successful transition to the paramedics’ general familiarity with the MPDS (they had heard about it from other agencies), diligence, and Ogle’s willingness to be part of the process.
Ogle certified as an EMD and EMD-Q, answered 911 calls, and presented the audiotapes for training purposes. She let the dispatchers listen and critique her performance. The hands-on involvement, she said, enhanced her perspective and demonstrated the emotions certain calls could provoke.
For example, Ogle was “scared to death” about taking a CPR call but instantly started PAIs for a young man his mother found unconscious and not breathing. Six minutes into chest compressions from the mother following Ogle’s instructions, he started breathing.
“I know how my people feel when answering CPR calls,” she said. “We train to do CPR, and we’re prepared, but we don’t train to start the person breathing. We train to keep doing the CPR until help arrives.”
The one-seat dispatch center in the trailer changed to a two-seat operation after the move, with full coverage during the 12-hour shifts. The double transition—protocol and partnering up—was further complicated by the zeal to achieve ACE status.
“Learning to Q was overwhelming,” she said. “That was my biggest obstacle. I had lots of questions.”
Ivan Whitaker, Priority Dispatch System Program Administrator—Medical, quickly became part of the Madison County EOC extended family. He was the No. 1 supporter and go-to guy. When she said “We can’t do this,” he insisted they could.
Soon enough they were “rockin’ the calls,” as they like to say at the center.
“We were making 100 percent compliance,” Ogle said.
On Sept. 8, 2015, Ogle received a call from International Academies of Emergency Dispatch (IAED) Associate Director Carlynn Page.
“I was so excited when she said we were an ACE,” Ogle said. “I immediately texted my employees. They needed to know first. They are the ones who have done this, not me. It is their accomplishment.”
Ogle had a space on the wall to highlight the ACE plaque. It will be visible to anyone coming to the center, including newer residents reporting their addresses for 911 service purposes. Her staff guides them on a tour of the EOC.
“What we do is so important,” she said. “And I want them to know that we give the best service possible.”
The achievement, however, won’t slow down Ogle’s generally 10- to 12-hour day. Ogle will still wear multiple hats as EOC manager, director, finance officer, and stand-in dispatcher. She can’t say for how long she will stay.
“I never wanted to put in time to retirement,” she said. “I want to make a difference, and the day I stop thinking that way and stop getting excited about what we do for people of this county, is the day I step down.”
Gilliam, who was elected county manager in 2014, is a big proponent of the job Ogle does and the center’s value to the community. He certainly doesn’t want any business about Ogle’s stepping down while he’s in charge.
“I trust her to do a great job, and that’s what she does,” he said. “She’s very dedicated. We have a great partnership and work as a team.”
Ogle found her niche when she answered a classified job ad and subsequently was hired as a dispatcher 20 years ago. She advanced to management after eight years, and although in the lead position, she relishes time away from administrative tasks to answer calls and dispatch response.
“You actually get to help someone,” Ogle said.
The center provides services to nine fire departments, three EMS units, and emergency management (EM). Of the nearly 6,400 calls made to 911 in 2014, more than half (3,710) were related to EMS, followed by fire (2,676), and, finally, EM (42).