Long-distance rescue saves public servants
Last year, East Haven (Conn.) Fire Department dispatcher Ray Kline didn’t expect to be working a call alongside first responders in central Maine, more than 300 miles from his one-person dispatch center. But a 911 call from local resident Erick Stolzman changed Kline’s perspective about how dispatchers — even in small centers — can have a huge impact even at an incident miles away.
A lifelong resident of East Haven, Kline is a paid 911 fire and EMS dispatcher who previously worked as a dispatcher for the Branford (Conn.) Police Department. He also is captain of Volunteer Company 1.
“I enjoy it,” Kline said about serving the public.
In East Haven, the dispatch center is manned by one person via 8-hour shifts, or 16-hour shifts for overtime, to serve 28,000 residents. Last year, the center dispatched 5,800 calls.
Kline said some days are quiet, while others are hectic.
“Some days, you are pulling your hair out because there are multiple calls, and it is only you there to answer them,” he admitted.
For this particular incident, Stolzman called 911 to report that he had received text messages from his two adult sons: Michael, an Oakland (Calif.) police officer, and Matthew, a special agent for the IRS. Apparently, their canoe had struck a boulder, and they were stranded in the vast Maine wilderness.
The two sons contacted their father with three messages, which included an assurance they were not badly injured. The crucial text message was one that included location data, which the men were able to provide because they had a handheld GPS device with them. In fact, that data was transmitted shortly before the cell phone stopped working because of a dead battery.
“We just knew we had to send help to the GPS coordinates 300 miles away,” Kline said. “If it wasn’t for the coordinates, who knows if we would have found them? It was a remote area.”
That father’s worried call to 911 was the first of many during a 7-hour rescue. Kline first transferred Stolzman to a non-emergency line and began taking down information, while the fire department’s assistant chief contacted the Coast Guard station for Long Island Sound. The guard was able to use the GPS coordinates to narrow their location to a remote wilderness area in the vicinity of Lincoln, Maine.
“According to them, there is no cell service there, so it was amazing the text messages got out,” Kline said.
With this information, Kline was able to contact the right law-enforcement agency — the Maine State Police near Lincoln — and relay the emergency information. The department then located the game warden. He was 2 hours away by boat from the stranded canoeists, who were only accessible through a section of white-water rapids.
But there was a glitch in the warden’s rescue attempt.
“Once the game warden got there, his boat died.” Kline said. “So, the warden and the two guys had to paddle two miles upriver to get to safety.”
Kline continued to communicate with the Maine agencies and share information with the father throughout the evening, until the sons were brought to safety.
“I’m a father myself, so I wasn’t going to let someone wonder about their child,” Kline said.
While he loves his job, Kline believes dispatchers nationwide are not appreciated enough. He thinks the public often takes the service for granted.
“You are taken for granted,” he said. “But don’t give up.”
However, many departments do offer public praise and appreciation. In fact, Kline recently received a commendation from East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo for going “above and beyond” the regular scope of his duties to aid the stranded canoeists.