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Telecommunicator of the Year jumps to aid of woman pulled from pool

Posted by: Jennifer Gomori Posted date: February 15, 2019


Photo courtesy of Ottawa County Dispatch
Ottawa County Central Dispatcher (OCCD) Ryan Culver (second from right) was awarded Telecommunicator of the Year 2018 from a pool of candidates nationwide. Culver accepted his award accompanied by (From left to right) Ottawa County Central Dispatch Supervisor Meagan Ross, Dispatcher Megan Chapman, Deputy Director Donna Kempf-Barnes and his wife Alexa Culver (far right).

– By Jennifer Gomori, POJ Editor with excerpts from Grand Haven Tribune

Just days after he was honored for his service as Telecommunicator of the Year nationally, Ottawa County Central Dispatcher (OCCD) Ryan Culver found himself in the midst of a rescue effort.

Culver was honored Aug. 6, 2018 by NICE Corporation, the recording software provider for dispatchers throughout the nation, at the annual Association of Public Safety Communication Officials (APCO) conference in Las Vegas. “The day of the drowning was the last hour at the hotel before we had to catch our plane to Michigan. It’s a beautiful pool and we had to go there and check it out before we left and that’s when the drowning happened,” Culver said.

That was Aug. 9 when Culver and two other members of Ottawa County Central Dispatch Authority (OCCDA), a POLC-represented unit, rushed to help an unconscious woman pulled from a Las Vegas swimming pool. The woman had been having trouble walking in the pool and swimming, however Culver said, “I didn’t anticipate that situation to take that direction at all. I realized she was unresponsive in the pool and got her out and did chest compressions and rescue breathing.”

“I’m a firefighter as well so I’ve had quite a few CPR calls, but this was a first witnessed drowning,” he said. “They always say drowning looks like nothing and that’s so true. All of a sudden, she went from swimming to unconscious in a matter of seconds. There was no indications of struggle. We’ve watched so many movies … it’s nothing like how it happens in the real world.”

Culver and co-worker Meagan Ross took turns with a lifeguard performing CPR for about 10 minutes until emergency personnel arrived, according to Tim Smith, Ottawa County 911 Executive Director.

Culver, 29, gave directions to the four lifeguards on duty, who were young adults. “I’m a CPR instructor so I kind of took over the chest compressions,” Culver said. “I directed my coworker (Megan Chapman) to wipe her down, make sure she was dry in case we used the AED. I had another lifeguard run and get the AED while we were doing chest compressions.”

Although it looked like the woman, believed to be in her 30s, might revive, she did not respond prior to being taken from the scene by paramedics about 35 minutes later. She was pronounced dead at the hospital.

“Our selfless folks jumped in, while others stared, and did an outstanding job rendering aid and working with the lifeguards and onsite medic team. They are truly heroes,” said Ottawa County 9-1-1 Deputy Director Donna Kempf-Barnes.

Culver was chosen for the Telecommunicator of the Year Award from entries across the nation based on his skills, abilities, consistent customer service, and his service to community. A Dispatcher since March 2014, he has been a part-time Paid on Call Holland Firefighter for the past nine years. “I am very very humbled to receive such a national award,” Culver said. “It just tells me … I’m on the right course to being an elite dispatcher.”

Culver originally planned on a career in law enforcement, completing an associate’s degree in Criminal Justice at Muskegon Community College. But working as a Holland Firefighter during a huge thunderstorm in 2014 changed his course. “Our 9-1-1 center was getting overwhelmed with 9-1-1 calls,” he said. “It affected the entire county. There was such a high call volume with fires and power lines down. It was organized chaos and they handled it so well.”
“I was so amazed with how well they did that I went from wanting to be a police officer … to focusing more on the Communications Center,” he said. “Today, I’m still in awe about how a 9-1-1 center operates.”

Culver was nominated by his Supervisor Josh Mausolf. “During those times when he is speaking to a subject who is panic stricken, he is able to use his tone and voice inflection in order to calm them down,” wrote Mausolf. “When dealing with a difficult caller who is unwilling to answer questions, or simply giving him a hard time for previous service, he will do his best to resolve the issue right up front. This may include touching base with the officer who was dealing with the incident in the first place, or even at times calling the person back after locating the answer. He gives 100 percent during each shift no matter the task at hand.”

“In order to be a 9-1-1 operator, you have to be consistent,” Culver said. “How are you handling the civil complaints, domestics, fraud? In order to be good at one thing, you have to be good at all of it.”

Customer service skills are critical, he said. “I’ve had a couple really large fires. I had a 15-minute pursuit that went from one side of the county to the other,” Culver said. “In the low priority calls, like animal complaints, civils, you still have to treat them with respect. I keep that same level of professionalism with the low priority calls as I do with the high priority calls.”

This is the second year in a row an Ottawa County Central Dispatch employee has been chosen as the PSAPs’ Finest Telecommunicator of the Year. Elvita Lewandowski, a former Ottawa County Dispatcher, who was promoted to Dispatch Supervisor, was awarded in 2017. “She holds herself to a very high standard. It doesn’t matter what the situation is, she’s very professional and she handles it well,” Culver said.