PHILADELPHIA- This past month, a Bucks County 911 dispatcher saved the lives of an 80-year-old Bensalem woman and an 18-year-old Bensalem man in separate instances. In September, the same dispatcher saved a Solebury patient who, like the other two, had stopped breathing.
The dispatcher, Stanley Niedzwiki, saved the three lives by coaching callers over the phone to administer CPR until help arrived. "It's not an everyday call, but Stan's a pro - he knows what he's doing," Audrey Kenny, deputy director of the county's Department of Emergency Communications, said Wednesday. "He always goes above and beyond on every call."
Kenny said she can "count on one hand" the number of times she has taught CPR over the phone for a cardiac-arrest case in her 19-year career.
Niedzwiki, 53, of Souderton, who received a commendation for his service from the county commissioners Wednesday, said he was just doing his job. On Feb. 14, a 14-year-old girl called 911, telling Niedzwiki, "I think my brother's having a seizure." Niedzwiki immediately started reading the steps on the Emergency Medical Dispatch card, a format for patient assessment, while notifying police, a rescue squad, and firefighters.
The steps took up to a minute. Then he read CPR instructions to the girl from a treatment card. Getting her comfortable enough to cooperate was key, Niedzwiki said. "She was upset, but she was following what I was telling her," he said. Niedzwiki, who has been a dispatcher for 16 years, coached the girl for about five minutes, until he heard her talking to the responders. Once the ambulance crew reached the hospital, they told him the patient was breathing. On Feb. 4, he helped save the 80-year-old Bensalem woman by coaching the caller through CPR. The patient was breathing on her own before the ambulance arrived.
On Sept. 21, Niedzwiki helped save a dialysis patient in cardiac arrest in a Solebury garage by talking the patient's adult son through CPR.
"In a crisis situation, sometimes people need a little reinforcement," he said. Niedzwiki and the other 94 full-time dispatchers are trained to handle such calls through their continuing education and their certification, which is required every two years, Kenny said.
This past year, the dispatchers handled 253,436 emergency calls, Kenny said. She did not know how many of those were for reports of cardiac arrest.
The department, based in Ivyland, operates around the clock, seven days a week. Most dispatchers, including Niedzwiki, work 12-hour shifts and a maximum of three consecutive days. Before he joined the department, Niedzwiki was a paramedic with a half-dozen rescue squads in lower and central Bucks.
As a dispatcher, he has handled many more lifesaving calls, he said, but cannot estimate the number.
"I just take it one day at a time," Niedzwiki said, "and try to help people the best I can."