Without Pause

A training video of a woman unable to escape a sinking vehicle stuck in Talina Moyer’s subconscious and surfaced at the very moment she needed it most.

Moyer instantly prioritized getting the driver out of the car before questioning where the car was going down. The training, she said, emphasized that the escape was essential, the single most viable option. Not location. Not depth of water. Not exactly how it had happened.

“No matter where, get them out of the car,” said Moyer, EMD/EFD/EPD.  

Ask the questions later.

And that’s exactly what she did along with—as Moyer stressed—welcoming the invaluable assistance of others at the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office communication center, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho (USA).

“Really was a team effort,” she said. “My partner took over the radio and others worked on the location. Certainly not the outcome if we hadn’t done this together.”

Moyer answered the mid-afternoon call during a late-August day. The caller, the vehicle’s sole occupant, said water was rapidly filling the front seat as the car tipped headway into Lake Coeur d’Alene. She had been able to grab her cell phone and, incredibly, stayed on the line while following Sinking Vehicle PAIs to release her seat belt, climb into the back seat, roll down a rear side window, and get out. She caught her breath and swam to shore.

The caller climbed onto the rocks, Moyer said. From there, she waited, her location on the lake plotted through GPS. She thanked Moyer, and they exchanged names. Moyer disconnected once marina deputies reached the caller by boat.

Moyer’s adrenaline levels dipped. She took a short walk outside. She was a little choked up but relieved.

“I certainly didn’t want to be the last person she talked to,” Moyer said.

A sinking vehicle call is rare. It is not a run-of-the-mill call at the Kootenai County Sheriff’s communication center despite Lake Coeur d’Alene’s size and popularity. The natural inland lake is the second largest in Idaho, spanning 25 miles south from Coeur d’Alene, averaging one to three miles wide, with 135 miles of shoreline bordered roads well-traveled by tourists and residents. During the summer season, recreation-related calls skyrocket.

The caller was no stranger to the area. She knew the road, traveling it every day back and forth from work. On this day, she had accidentally nodded off, and the car steered off the winding road. In addition to holding on to the cell phone, the incident is remarkable for several other reasons. The vehicle plunged down a 30-foot embankment. The caller was not injured. She kept her wits about her.

She was shaken, Moyer said, especially once reaching shore and grasping the severity of what had happened. Yet, she sounded calm throughout the ordeal.

There’s a flipside to that, said QA Supervisor Beverly Crawford. Calm is in Moyer’s personality.

“If an emergency dispatcher can’t stay calm, it’s a good bet that the caller won’t either,” Crawford said.

Moyer is in her 15th year in communications at the sheriff’s office. The woman from the sinking vehicle was the first person who ever offered to meet after thousands and thousands of calls. They had lunch.

“I never expected to meet anyone,” she said. “It’s very nice to receive notice.”

Moyer would rather be the voice and not the face in response. She has learned of her patience in dealing with situations not so black-and-white. Every day is different. Every caller responds differently.

“A little black, a lot of gray,” she said. “You don’t know how someone will respond. It’s our job to stay calm, relate, and talk to them with the understanding they’re not having a good day.”

Editor’s Note:

When encountering people trapped inside a sinking vehicle during Case Entry while on the medical, fire, and police protocols, the EMD/EFD/EPD sends response, provides PDIs and DLS Instructions, and then returns to questioning.

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