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W.H.A.L.E. program provides critical information to first responders

Posted by: jgomori Posted date: January 10, 2020


By Jennifer Gomori, POJ Editor with excerpts from WJRT

When Montcalm County first responders arrived at the scene of a deadly head on collision on M-91 in October 2018, they had no idea who the unharmed toddler strapped inside the car seat was. As they scrambled to extricate the driver from her vehicle, they removed the child and, after evaluating her condition, worked to calm her.

Both were taken to Kelsey Memorial Hospital in Lakeview. The driver, later identified as local Tri County Schools kindergarten teacher Shelly Gilman, was pronounced dead at the hospital.

The toddler was Shelly’s 19-month-old granddaughter, Hudson. “She was later identified by someone working in the ER who knew the family,” said Montcalm County Sheriff Mike Williams. “Had that information been available to first responders that would’ve been very helpful. When you’re a first responder and you have a child in distress … that can be a comforting thing to refer to a child by their own name. That type of thing can be really impactful for people who are victims in these crashes.”

So when Sheriff Williams heard about the We Have a Little Emergency (W.H.A.L.E.) program a couple months later, his ears perked up. “I’m part of Stanton Rotary. We had a guest speaker who talked about the W.H.A.L.E. program,” Williams said. “This fit the exact scenario we had. In a nutshell, it’s a child car seat identification kit with a sticker that goes on the bottom of the car seat and stickers that go on the sides of the seat.”

W.H.A.L.E. provides emergency personnel with the child’s identity, emergency contacts and medical information.

Montcalm County Central Dispatchers, a POLC-represented unit, had their hands tied as far as reaching Hudson’s parents or other relatives and being able to obtain her medical history at the scene.

“Dispatchers are that lifeline for all the first responders,” Williams said. “Dispatch is helping facilitate any type of communication for people on scene and people elsewhere (such as family), so when they have a crisis at a scene … this is something that would help them do their job.”

“I’m excited for it because it’s really going to help dispatch, especially if there’s a (young) child,” said Amy Thomas, Montcalm County Central Dispatch 911 Director. “Anytime you have an accident like that you’ll have children that are scared. A lot of times, it’s really when the first responder feels helpless. It will expedite the process to find a guardian for the child.”

“Without (the W.H.A.L.E. program) there would be a lot of digging … trying to figure out who the registered owner is,” Thomas said. “When an accident happens, there’s a lot of other things going on. We have got to make sure you have all the rescue and ambulances you need.”

By having someone the child knows come and get that child in those critical situations, it frees up first responders to focus on helping the injured. “I’ve been in Dispatch for 20 years,” Thomas said. “It’s a really stressful thing. When first responders have this, it will take a lot of stress off the dispatch center to find someone quickly, especially for a child who is not able to talk.”

The kits are provided free to the public, but cost the department some money, so William’s reached out to Shelly’s husband, Bob Gilman, who kicked off the campaign with a $1,000 donation. Other community members have donated over $1,500. “He was very enthusiastic about doing this,” Williams said. “Shelly was a teacher in Sand Lake. She was very well known in the community and it was a big loss.”

W.H.A.L.E. kits are available at the Sheriff’s Office or Central Dispatch in Stanton. Montcalm EMS carry them, and the Sheriff’s Office is handing them out at festivals. Williams said he shared the kits with area departments, including Wyoming Police, another POLC-represented unit.

“I’ve sent a couple to people outside the county as well,” Williams said. “We’re trying to spread the word. The kits instruct parents what to do. There’s nothing to register. It’s just easy and a good information source if unfortunately, that need ever arises.”

For more information about W.H.A.L.E., email Sheriff Williams at mwilliams@montcalm.us or call (989) 831-7590. You can also see more about the W.H.A.L.E. program on Facebook.

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