SANFORD, Maine — The 911 call came at just about 4:30 a.m. April 9, in the middle of Jason Townsend’s 12-hour shift. It had been a fairly uneventful night until then, he said, and he was processing paperwork.
It was a man on the telephone who said his wife was just about to give birth. The couple was at home in Lebanon.
“The dad was initially on the line,” said Townsend. “The mom was screaming ‘get them here,’ in the background. The dad was a bit freaked out.”
The dad passed the telephone to a family friend, and Townsend, 35, swung into action.
A certified emergency medical dispatcher, Townsend said his seven years of experience and training kicked in. He spoke with the family friend, and they both went to work.
“I told her to follow my instructions to a T,” he said and instructed the woman to gather supplies — blankets, towels, string for the umbilical cord, etc. “And I told her to take a look.”
By that point, contractions were 30 seconds apart.
The woman looked, and saw the baby’s head.
Townsend kept issuing instructions.
Then, the baby’s head emerged. The delivery was swift — Townsend estimated three to five minutes between the time the head was first seen and when the infant made its debut.
“The next thing I knew, the baby was crying,” he said.
It was a girl.
Townsend and others at Sanford Regional Communications Center said the “dispatch delivery” is the first they can recall.
The woman to whom he was giving instructions “was great,” Townsend said.
Emergency medical dispatchers are required in all dispatching centers that are 911 public safety answering points. EMDs are required to take 24 hours of training annually and undergo recertification every two years, Townsend said.
“There are many different areas that get covered in training, but childbirth is one area that very rarely gets put into actual use for us, especially given all of the advancements in emergency response,” said John Lavallee, Townsend’s supervisor and the acting director of the communications center. “I cannot say enough great things regarding my dispatchers and our organization.”
Lavallee said his first reaction when he was informed of the birth was “complete admiration” for Townsend and the communications center.
“(He) is very ‘together’ under stress and all of our training really kicks in at times when most people would rightfully fall apart,” Lavallee wrote in an email response to questions. “Whether the call turns out with a happy ending, such as this successful delivery of a baby who is healthy and doing well, or not so happy ending resulting in the death of a loved one, either way, as the true ‘first responder,’ the emergency dispatcher touches the lives of many people and helps them through what could prove to be the most traumatic event in their lives.”
Federal privacy laws prevent rescue personnel from speaking specifically about patients without their consent, and the family has not responded to telephone calls for comment, said Rescue Chief Samantha Cole, but she said the woman who took Townsend’s instructions appreciated his guidance — and Cole was appreciative, too.
“Because of the dispatcher’s directions, the caller did a great job and did everything perfectly right,” Cole said. “She said he was awesome because he calmed her down and told her exactly what to do.
“I can tell you she was very happy with the dispatcher.”
For his part, Townsend, who began his dispatching career at York County Communications and moved to SRCC when the county center was disbanded, said it’s just part of the job.
“It was neat, though,” he said. “It reminds you of why you’re here.”
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