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What started out as a simulation turned into the real thing at the Emergency Operations Center Thursday.

EOC personnel were testing and demonstrating a new medical information system for county officialsand other visitors when the program was used on a real call.

Senior dispatcher Debbie Burk was on the radio at 10:30 a.m. whena man called saying his wife was unconscious. Quickly turning to a set of information cards and asking a few questions, Burk determined that the woman was in cardiac arrest and requested an engine to assistSykesville's ambulance, already in route.

"After the dispatcher upgraded the call to a cardiac, she gave the husband instructions how to establish an airway and he cleared it partially," said Sykesville-Freedom Fire Department Chief Richard Lyons, who was on the ambulance.

"About that time a firefighter across the street who had heard the call on his radio came over and administered CPR, so the dispatcher was able to cease instructions."

By the time the ambulance arrived, the crew knew exactly what the situation was and what each memberhad to do. After stabilizing the woman, the ambulance crew transported her to Carroll County General Hospital.

Prior to Thursday's official installation of the Advanced Emergency Medical Dispatch system,EOC dispatchers merely would have sent an ambulance to the site of an unconscious person.

Dispatchers had no guidelines for determining the true nature of a call, so emergency personnel arriving at scenes didn't know the problem until evaluating the patient.

"Now we can dispatch based on the condition of the patient," said Charles Barnhart, Emergency Medical Service Training coordinator. "Not only can wegive instructions to the caller, but we can keep the ambulance crew informed as they proceed to the scene. The crew will be fully prepared when they arrive."

The pre-arrival instruction program employs aset of "protocol cards" for a variety of medical emergencies.

Each card includes a set of questions the dispatcher can ask to establish the problem and its seriousness.

"Everything goes by these key questions," Barnhart said. "With this information, it's one more step we can take to help the person until advanced help can arrive."

The Sykesville husband was a perfect example -- by staying on the phoneand following the dispatcher's instructions, he gave his wife some extra time until trained help arrived, although the 69-year-old woman died later at the hospital.

"It's a highly efficient system," Lyons said. "But it's success depends on how cooperative and willing a person is to do what's needed."

Barnhart said groups and organizations interested in learning more about the system can call him at 848-8360.

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