UNIQUE BY CHOICE

By Audrey Fraizer

You didn’t have to look hard to find the unusual or, if you prefer, the unique, at NAVIGATOR 2013, and that’s not counting the jugglers, Styrofoam bears, wood chip indoor trails, a comedian priding himself on the two-fisted dental size of his mouth, or the opportunity to have a keepsake photo with you costumed in snowboard and ski gear on a spring day in mid-April.

And who can ignore the speakers talking out loud to themselves in elevators, practicing the final minutes prior to giving their presentations?

NAVIGATOR 2013, held in Salt Lake City, also added its distinctive touch by what emergency communication professionals and speakers from around the world chose to bring or introduce based on what’s happening outside the conference walls.

Kevin Willett and his staff and volunteers representing 9-1-1 CARES were “Johnny on the Spot” on the day they arrived to take command of their booth in the conference’s exhibition hall. Signatures and expressions of gratitude filled the first set of three posterboard cards intended for delivery to dispatchers in Boston, Mass., within a finger snap of their announced availability.

“We’re already on to the second set, and it’s just been over an hour,” said Tracy Deitschman, a 9-1-1 CARES representative by way of her position with Public Safety Training Consultants (PSTC). “Dispatchers are always so quick to respond when something happens within their community. It affects us all.”

The segments of the larger community, in this 9-1-1 CARES activation, were the dispatchers from three Boston agencies—Boston Police Dispatch/911, Boston Fire Alarm/Dispatch, and Boston EMS Dispatch/Communications—that had taken the magnitude of calls following the fatal bombings at the Boston Marathon. The signatures on each card numbered into the hundreds when mailed the next day.

Olympian Jimmy Shea gave the Opening Keynote on Wednesday morning, telling the story of the family’s three-generation participation in the Olympic Games and the tragic death of his grandfather 17 days prior to his winning the gold medal in the icy skeleton course. Shea answered questions from the floor, as his audience circulated his gold medal and helmet, and also added a bit more of his touching bio afterward to fans gathering in the back of the hall.

So, what’s so unique aside from winning the single-person sled race in five-hundredths of a second over the gold medal favorite? Shea was a “special student,” as he had announced during his presentation, but the special part had more to do with the education system than his prowess in sports. Shea was pulled out of the regular classroom while still in grade school, for the remainder of his public school education, in favor of the school district’s special education curriculum.

“Yeah, that had a powerful affect on me,” said Shea, who has dyslexia.

Shea, however, did not give up on education any more than he did on skeleton, which was reintroduced to the 2002 Olympics following a 54-year hiatus from the winter games. He is two credits short of an associate’s degree in recreational management, and he is considered a role model to thousands of kids who struggle with special challenges. Shea’s education through grade 12 also taught him what it’s like to be on the outside and what it takes to make every individual shine, despite the label assigned.

“Find something that develops good self-esteem and respect for others,” he said. “For me it was sports. The confidence of being an athlete helped me overcome a lot of problems.”

Many may have also noticed the black lab/golden retriever mix circulating through  the conference under the guidance of puppy raiser Kelly Haugh. The 18-month-old Kinnick accompanies Haugh everywhere she goes, including to her job as manager of Community Ambulance in Henderson, Nev.

The close companionship won’t last. Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) selected Kinnick through the program’s intensive evaluation process for the training necessary to assist children and adults with disabilities. Puppy raisers, like Haugh, return the dogs to CCI at 15 months of age for another nine months of classes with professional trainers at a regional training center.

“Not all dogs are accepted and can be released from the program at any time for various reasons,” Haugh said.

Haugh has been a volunteer trainer for 14 years and Kinnick is the seventh dog she has trained for the program. The dogs are provided free-of-charge to those needing assistance with daily tasks, as hearing partners, or paired with a facilitator working in a healthcare, visitation, or education setting.

Haugh said no matter where they go the reception seldom varies, and from what she had seen at NAVIGATOR, they were working their magic in a crowd known for its high-stress profession.

“A dog promotes a calmer environment, and most people can relate to the joy a dog can bring to their lives,” she said.

People profiles

Eileen Slevinsky Ziegler

Dispatcher/Supervisor, Bonnyville Regional Fire Authority, Alberta, Canada 

There were three generations in the same space on the morning two years ago Eileen provided the Pre-Arrival Instructions necessary for a mother to help deliver her daughter’s baby daughter, right down to the green string the new grandma used to tie the umbilical cord. ProQA was in command, Eileen said, and with the confidence the software gave her she wasn’t a bit nervous until it was all over. “Makes you feel good to be able to do something like that,” she said. “It was a great experience just like it is attending NAVIGATOR, and this one is my third conference.”

Roberta Ivory

Manager, Shelby County Fire Department, Tenn.

Vicki Kovalsky

Quality Improvement/Paramedic, Memphis Fire Department, Tenn.

Those featured on the cover of The Journal from NAVIGATOR 2011 palled up again in 2013 for three days of taking in new classes, seeing friends from conferences past, and—as a first this year—attending the Thursday evening ACE reception. The Memphis Fire Department was the world’s seventh ACE, while Shelby County was accredited in January 2013. Aside from similarities in what they do and the state where they both live, Roberta said their personalities just clicked years ago when meeting for the first time at NAVIGATOR. Over the years, they’ve enjoyed watching each other’s careers go forward in a profession that defines their reasons for a combined 40 years in emergency communications. “We get to help people every day,” said Roberta, who started as a dispatcher and was recently promoted to manager. “That’s not something everyone can say. I love it.” 

Marci Heath

Dispatcher II, Rice County Emergency Communication, Kan.

Marci certified as an EMD eight years ago, which was four years into her job in emergency communications. The adjustment was hard at first, she admits, but predicated from calls pointing out the necessity of protocol and the complementary Pre-Arrival Instructions. Early in her career, Marci had answered one of those calls. “I had a college student on the phone having an asthma attack,” she said. “I couldn’t do anything but listen to her die. It was terrible and it was calls like that that pushed the need for MPDS. Since then, we’ve had similar situations but now we’re able to help. It’s a great feeling to be able to do that.”

Missy Widdison

Supervisor, VECC, Utah 

Michael Veenendaal

QA Specialist, Utah Valley Dispatch

Siblings Widdison and Veenendaal were at NAVIGATOR for some of the same reasons but each of them took away something a little bit different. Widdison adopted the conference theme of Different by Nature in her presentation (Critical Incident Stress and Compassion Fatigue) since “that is a perfect way of describing dispatchers. They are a unique type of people that have a special gift.” As a first-time presenter she enjoyed seeing attendees make plans to work together. “That in and of itself was very worthwhile to me. The class was full, which made me really happy.” Veenendaal enjoyed the feeling that he wasn’t alone in his role at the comm. center while sitting in quality assurance classes and networking. “You’re not as crazy as you think you are when you are Qing,” he said. Since public safety is a family affair they can share what they learned at the conference with their father and sister who work at VECC and Utah Valley Dispatch, respectively. “Public safety is in our blood for sure,” Veenendaal said. “Once you get in it you can’t stop.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR :
Audrey Fraizer is Managing Editor of the Journal, and is poster child for an editorial personality. She has a focused streak difficult to distract, calls library research a hobby, and believes she fools her co-workers into thinking she’s listening when she’s actually not.

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