FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) - When 24-year-old Meghan Smith is at the desk of the Sequoyah County 911 Center in Oklahoma, she doesn’t buckle under pressure.
By her own account, an emergency dispatcher has to be quick to think and know how to talk to people. Smith was put to the test last month, when she received a phone call of a woman going into labor.
Smith spoke to one woman on the phone while the other woman was ready to give birth. The call was intense - and fast. Smith immediately turned to Emergency Medical Dispatch protocol and gave the woman on the phone instructions. In about three minutes, the baby girl was born, safe and healthy.
Among Smith’s accolades, she is EMD certified, emergency telecommunicator instructor certified and CPR instructor certified.
Born in Fort Smith and raised in Sallisaw, Oklahoma, Smith didn’t intend to jump into a career in emergency dispatch. She studied at Connors State College in Warner, Oklahoma, and got her bachelor’s in health and human performance at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
While Smith was going to school, she needed a part-time job, so she started working with her mom, Sheila Comer, who was a dispatcher at the Sequoyah County Sheriff’s Department.
In August 2010, while still commuting between Sallisaw and school in Tahlequah, Smith started work at the 911 Center. She took an immediate liking to it, and eventually became the center’s dispatch supervisor.
“I don’t plan on leaving here for a while,” she said. “It’s a job that I love. I don’t wake up every day going, ‘Gosh, I don’t want to go to work today.’”
The job isn’t for everyone. Being able to calm people down enough to communicate effectively is a challenge in itself, along with knowing exactly what to do in a variety of emergency situations.
“Not all calls are going to turn out the way that you want them to, but by answering that phone you’re making somebody’s day,” Smith said. “It could be their worst day, and you’re going to turn around and make it a better day for them - that’s what I enjoy. I just really like helping people.”
Dispatch supervisor is one of a few different hats that Smith wears. She also works at a local restaurant south of Sallisaw and fills in at the dispatch at the Roland Police Department.
Gina Cox, Roland’s dispatch supervisor, has known Smith for about seven years from when the two both worked at the Sequoyah County Sheriff’s Department.
About four months ago, Cox broke her knee cap and needed someone to come fill in while she recovered. She couldn’t think of a more qualified person than Smith to come help.
“She knows to multitask,” Cox said. “Multitasking is what you do from the time you walk into that eight-hour shift to the time you walk out. It’s not cut out for everyone to do.”
The job calls for being able to handle multiple situations at one time, especially during severe weather, and knowing where first responders are at all times and knowing where they need to go. Cox said sometimes people in Roland call the department first, and if Smith is on one end at the 911 Center listening in, she knows what to do without Cox having to relate information back to her, Cox said.
“I love it when she is at 911, because we both think alike,” Cox said.
Between her three jobs, Smith works more than 60 hours per week. Still, the focus is on her duties at the 911 dispatch center, Smith said.
David Slaughter, 911 coordinator at Sequoyah County, recognized Smith’s good work ethic when the position of dispatch supervisor became available. Smith always came in during wintry weather situations, performed whatever hours were asked of her, and went above and beyond on the job - all while still going to school in Tahlequah, Slaughter said.
“Those are the type of people you like to retain - a young, college-educated person,” Slaughter said. “The more you get like that, the better-trained your staff could be.”
Aside from her dispatch work, Smith teaches a 40-hour course for new employees that covers pretty much every scenario a dispatcher could face on the job.
Not all of the scenarios are lightning-paced; sometimes, a dispatcher has to be patient and say just the right things. Smith handles those situations with ease, Slaughter said.
“Sometimes, people have a real live emergency; sometimes they’re looking for someone to talk to,” he said. “You hate to say it, but sometimes you get someone who wants to end their life and you need to keep them on the phone.”
The time Smith handled the pregnant woman was not the first time she helped deliver a baby over the phone. About a year ago, another woman was in labor out in the county. Smith was on the phone for about 20 minutes while an ambulance was on the way.
“It was a little nerve-racking,” Smith said. “Once you start going through your protocols, it just all falls into place and it goes really smoothly.”
Smith has never met the women she helped, but that’s OK, she said.
“I speak with people every day. I don’t feel like they need to say thank you - that’s why I’m here,” Smith said. “I love to help people. Just knowing that the baby was safe, that was good enough for me.”
About the only thing she hasn’t done so far is deliver a baby in person, although she has considered being an EMT like her mother and father before her, she said.
“I’ve thought about it. It still could happen,” Smith said.
Information from: Times-Herald, https://www.thnews.com/
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