NENA honors ‘everyday heroes’
LONG BEACH, Calif.–The National Emergency Number Association, this week at its annual convention, joined with 911 Cares to present the 2005 “Everyday Heroes” awards. They went to a News Jersey dispatcher who kept a victim calm and focused after a building collapsed on her, a Florida dispatcher who fielded a call from a five-year-old girl whose parents had been killed in their home, and an Oregon dispatcher who kept her wits when she fielded a 911 call from her husband after her young son had been seriously injured after being run over by the family’s riding lawn mower.
After a construction crew accidentally ruptured a natural gas pipeline and caused an explosion that leveled a Petco store in Eaton Town, N.J., Jennifer Rohan found herself buried under rubble that had crushed one of her legs and blew open one of her fingers. Rohan told NENA attendees that before passing out she was certain she was going to die.
When she returned to consciousness, Rohan managed to make a wireless 911 call that was fielded by Anthony Celano, a dispatcher with the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office. During the 51-minute call, Celano assured Rohan that she would make it out of the rubble alive, Rohan said, adding that Celeno’s calm demeanor kept her from panicking.
“After a while, I felt we were just two people killing time,” she said.
When five-year-old Tia Hernlen dialed 911 because her mother and father had been fatally wounded in their bedroom, the call reached Donna Choufani, a dispatcher with the Bolusia County, Fla., Sheriff’s Department near Daytona Beach. A portion of this call was played for attendees. Choufani skillfully kept Tia on the line and methodically asked a series of questions to determine whether intruders were in the home and whether the child was in imminent danger. She kept Tia calm until a sheriff’s officer arrived at the front door and convinced her that it was OK to open the door for the officer.
She still isn’t sure how she did it. “You just go with it,” she said. “You say to yourself that it could be your daughter. We do it to make a difference.”
Deanna McKay understands fully Choufani’s point. McKay had been a dispatcher in Lynn County, Ore., for just eight months when she received an emergency call from her husband, Craig. Her son, Taylor, had been thrown from a riding lawn mower driven by his older brother Colton, and subsequently had been run over. Taylor’s injuries inflicted by the lawnmower’s blades were so severe that Deanna’s husband reported that Taylor’s “sides were hanging out.” Despite this, Deanna stayed focused and dispatched emergency personnel to the scene.
A portion of the 911 call also was played for attendees, and Deanna showed remarkable professionalism and poise–at one point during the call, she reminded a supervisor that she was supposed to work overtime that day, in anticipation of having to leave to join her son at the hospital. Today, though he still faces additional surgeries, Taylor is recovering from his injuries.
In addition to the dispatcher awards, 911 Cares provided tickets to Taylor and Tia to visit Walt Disney World. In addition, Petco is donating a two-year supply of food to Tia’s dog Lizza, who was a focal point of her conversation with Choufani, and is making a financial contribution to a no-kill pet shelter in Bolusia County.