Spotlight: Berrien County Public Safety Communications Center Dispatcher Receives Life-Saving Award
On December 14, 2019 at 1543 hours, a call was received by 5-year Dispatcher Melissa Hensley from the driver of a pickup truck who had just rolled his vehicle into a water-filled drainage ditch just outside of Bridgman, Michigan, a small community in Southwestern Michigan’s Berrien County. The driver explained that he was trying to avoid hitting a deer in the road and ended up in the ditch, flipped over while still buckled in. Dispatcher Hensley immediately inputted the call for service into CAD, based on the driver’s said location. She “echoed” his statements so he would be clear that she understood the urgency of the situation. She confirmed his location and inquired if he was injured. She remained on the line and asked how much water was pouring into the cab of the truck. He estimated about three inches at the time and reiterated that he could not get out. Rather than recommending he break a window, Dispatcher Hensley understood that he had nowhere to move and anymore water rushing into the cab of the truck would have proved fatal. Within a minute of receiving the call, a fellow dispatcher multi-selected a priority call over the radio for police and EMS units, while the shift supervisor initiated a fire response from Lake Township, with mutual aid from Lincoln Township Fire. The driver’s cell phone became muffled due to being connected through his truck via Bluetooth. It was apparent by the questions posed by Dispatcher Hensley, that she was acutely and situationally aware of the landscape and the size of a truck cab.
Another dispatcher made the decision to call for a wrecker service to expedite getting the truck up righted and out of the water. This information was passed along to the driver as his phone became garbled and eventually the sound of rushing water and sirens in the distance was all that was heard. Dispatcher Hensley remained on the line and kept trying to talk to the driver, but to no avail. Within two minutes of putting out the priority call, police units began arriving on scene, followed by a Lake Township Fire commander who responded directly. Within seven minutes of receiving the call, dispatchers were advised that the “subject was out of the water.”
Chief Martin and Melissa Hensley
Dispatcher Hensley was honored with a life-saving award by Baroda-Lake Township police Chief Shawn Martin on January 14, 2020, exactly one-month after this tragic call. During the ceremony, she was able to meet and speak once again to the driver of the pickup truck whose life she helped to save. He expressed his gratitude to all involved and this was a shining moment for one of our own. The extraordinary teamwork of these individuals and the others working alongside them was an example of our skilled staff working with the responders at the scene, turning a potentially tragic outcome into a fast recovery and life-saving event. The quick action taken by all involved represents what highly trained and experienced public safety professionals can do in our communities.