December 29, 2005

Positivity: Dispatcher Talks Trapped Children Through Survival in Fire

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:14 am

A dispatcher in Knoxville kept them alive until firefighters arrived (link requires registration):

Children trapped in fire get lifesaving advice
15-year-old girl and her cousin, 5, escape thanks to dispatcher, firefighters
December 17, 2005

Knox County E-911 Center dispatcher Michael Mays couldn’t help but think of his own unborn son Friday as he tried to calm two children trapped in a burning home.

“I was thinking of that while doing this – that if this was my child, how would I handle it,” said Mays, a 9-year veteran of emergency medical services dispatching.

The 33-year-old Mays and his wife are expecting their first child in March.

According to Charlie Barker, spokesman for the Knoxville Fire Department, Mays not only handled the call properly, but he probably saved the lives of the children trapped in the house at 3827 Selma Ave.

“He calmed them down and told them both to lie down on the floor, and that probably saved their lives,” Barker said.

Lying on the floor gained the 15-year-old girl and her 5-year-old cousin valuable sips of air until firefighters arrived from the Burlington station. Mays said he was able to calm the girl by posing questions to her, which forced her to focus her thoughts.

“At first, you could tell she was panicking and I couldn’t understand her,” Mays said. “She was excited and choking and couldn’t breathe.”

A recording of the call reveals a cough-filled plea for help from a girl who knew she was trapped.

“It’s just me and my cousin and we can’t breathe,” she told Mays. “We can’t get out. Can you help us?”

The girl rejected Mays’ suggestions of getting out a front or back door, or breaking a window. The black smoke from burning grease on a stove concealed any paths to safety. Security bars across the windows eliminated that route out.

Knoxville firefighters located the girl and boy within minutes of the 12:20 p.m. call for help. Firefighter David Smith said he kicked in the locked front door and carried the boy to safety while firefighter Dennis McCain hauled the girl from the smoke-charged, single-story house.

“They were kind of choking and gagging,” McCain said.

Both children maintained consciousness and quickly responded to oxygen, said John Tillet, a paramedic and firefighter who helped care for the victims.

Barker said the girl was taken to the University of Tennessee Medical Center, where she was treated for smoke inhalation. She was expected to be released Friday, Barker said.

The boy, also suffering smoke inhalation, was transported by ambulance to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, where he was expected to stay the night, Barker said.

….. “The house has to fill up with smoke before it gets to the floor,” Barker said. “That’s why we tell people to get low and go.”

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