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'Do Not Panic': ‘911 Crisis Center’ Dispatcher On Dealing With Allergic Reactions

When a girl suffers an allergic reaction to eating nuts, a dispatcher defuses the tense situation. 

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“If I Didn’t Have Humor I Wouldn’t Still Be Doing This Job,” 911 Dispatcher Says
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“If I Didn’t Have Humor I Wouldn’t Still Be Doing This Job,” 911 Dispatcher Says

911 Dispatcher, Nancy Woodruff, explains that in order to keep your sanity with this demanding job, you have to have a sense of humor.

At Chagrin Valley Dispatch, a communications center covering the greater Cleveland area, most calls received begin the same way: “911,” says the dispatcher. “What is the address of your emergency?”

After that, every call is different. 

The situation could involve someone’s health, a domestic conflict, a home accident while putting up holiday decorations. You name it, Chagrin Valley dispatchers have handled it. 

Their skills, along with keep-cool temperaments and high-spirited camaraderie, are all front and center in Oxygen’s new series, “911 Crisis Center,” airing Saturdays at 9/8c. 

In a recent episode, dispatcher Melanie McCavish picked up a call about a girl suffering from an allergic reaction.

“My niece had peanuts and should not have had peanuts,” said the aunt, adding that the girl’s EpiPen had expired. “I don’t know which emergency room is closest.”

Food allergies are variable, according to a usnews.com health report: “There’s no way to predict the severity of a reaction from one day to the next.” 

McCavish’s training and 18 years of experience, along with a coordinated response by medical personnel dispatched to the caller’s address, allowed her to quickly assess the situation. 

“How about you just let us come to you,” said the dispatcher, who learned that the girl had eaten the peanuts less than 10 minutes before the call came in and that she had not used her EpiPen. 

McCavish also learned that the girl was experiencing a change in her breathing. “Her throat is starting to close,” said the aunt.

McCavish’s personal experience informed her work. “I know what this feels like,” she told producers. “I’ve been a victim of allergic reactions. I’ve had four asthma attacks in my life. When you can’t breathe a couple of seconds, it feels like minutes ... I learned from a very early age that panicking makes it so much worse."

She reassured the caller that help was already on the way. “Do not panic. Stay on the line here and tell me if anything changes with her, OK?"

“I hear the squad,” said the relieved caller, who confirmed that help arrived. The girl was transported by ambulance to the hospital. She made a full recovery.

“It’s wonderful to save a life,” said McCavish. “It does feel good.” And that’s part of the job description. “It’s just another day in the office, on to the next call.”

The dispatch staff also handled calls about a hostile roadside encounter, an escalating situation between neighbors, and an active shooting that left a man with a leg wound.

To learn more about these calls and more, watch “911 Crisis Center,” airing Saturdays at 9/8c on Oxygen, or stream episodes here.

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