Marcella Dixon picked up the phone and helped a 19-year-old woman give birth to a baby boy. Then she helped guide a frantic group through a fatal shooting in Newhallville. All in a week’s work on 911 dispatch duty.
Dixon, 35, sits at a giant control board in the Emergency Operations Center in the basement of the Hall of Records. Along with three or four co-workers in the control room, she handles everything from fires to overdoses —‚Äù whatever prompts someone to dial 911.
In her seven years as a dispatcher, Dixon has talked “sweet old ladies” who’ve fallen down through the anxious moments until the ambulence arrives. She’s dealt with violent assaults, heart attacks, and even maternity calls. But she’d never helped deliver a baby over the phone.
“We normally get [maternity] calls like that, but never it is right that moment, she’s going to have that baby right now,” said Dixon Friday morning, a few hours after getting off her 12 a.m. to 8 a.m. shift.
Dixon has never given birth. She’s only seen one —‚Äù her nephew’s —‚Äù and admits she was a “squeamish” viewer. When she got the call this week, she was “nervous,” but “instinct, training, kicks in. You don’t hesitate.” She calmed down the 19-year-old woman’s cousin, got her onto a couch, and gave calm instructions. The cousin followed orders: “The lady said you gotta push!”
Five minutes later, Dixon heard a little voice over the phone. “Next thing I know, we heard the baby was out!”
“I’m just happy everything turned out all right,” said Dixon, who was quick to duck the limelight and give thanks to co-workers. Modest and photo-shy, she brought co-worker Dana Martin (pictured at right) along to an interview Friday. The two had worked as a team: Martin guided responders to the house while Dixon coached the nervous cousin on the phone.
The two have had a packed week. Wednesday the room turned hectic when they got a call from Newhallville at about 12:30 a.m. Martin, who’s been dispatching for eight years, took the first call. First someone said two men were fighting. Then a woman called and said a man had been shot in the head.
They talked to a lot of screaming people, but only one caller was calm enough to talk sense. “She wasn’t willing to go out and touch, but she said he was shot in the head. Everyone else was like, Ahhhh!”
Early Friday, Martin also helped a man get out from under a car that she said had driven into Lou’s Lounge on Clay Street and Blatchley Avenue, pinning the man’s leg onto the ground.
Other times, odd non-emergency calls come in. When the night is slow, dispatchers will answer far-fetched questions. “Like some trucker from New Orleans is driving up the highway and they be lost,” says Dixon. “We have fun with them, ‘cause it breaks the monotony.”
A lot of times, people just don’t understand what the dispatcher’s job is, she says. They don’t know Dixon and Martin are trained in Emergency Medical Dispatch so they can guide people through medical emergencies until the ambulance arrives. A lot of times, people hang up once the ambulance is on the way.
“They tell us: Don’t ask these questions! “ says Dixon. We’re not just trying “to be nosy.” “We’re here to help.”