NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

April 19, 2013

One of the best

Salisbury dispatcher lauded for role in saving choking baby

By Dave Rogers
Staff Writer

---- — SALISBURY — Over the course of a frantic few minutes last August, Salisbury Police Department dispatcher Scarlette Balkus helped save the life of a 5-day-old infant, relaying vital information to her father who had called moments earlier saying her daughter couldn’t breathe.

On April 30, the six-year veteran of the department will be honored for her actions that day by the State 911 Department as part of National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week.

The State 911 Department, part of the state’s Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, provides equipment, database, network and technical support services to 262 public safety answering points. It also sponsors and conducts training programs and professional development courses for dispatchers. The event is scheduled to take place inside in Worcester and will feature dispatchers from across the state.

“It’s a wicked honor to be picked as one of the best,” Balkus said. “911 really does what it can to make you feel special.”

Balkus said the infant’s father called to report his daughter was vomiting through her nose and mouth, most likely due to some illness. After alerting police, firefighters and an ambulance crew, Balkus began talking the father through the steps to clear his daughter’s airway. The family was instructed to place the infant along the forearm with her head pointed down and then slap the infant’s back five times. After hearing the parents deliver the five blows, Balkus said she could hear the baby begin crying.

As a precaution, the infant girl was transported to Anna Jaques Hospital in Newburyport for evaluation.

Balkus’ heroics, which she downplayed as merely doing her job, was noticed by police chief Thomas Fowler who nominated her for the state honor.

“It’s tremendous, she obviously saved this baby’s life,” Fowler said. “She did an excellent job.”

This isn’t the first time that Balkus has been praised for her dispatching duties. About four years ago, Balkus received another state 911 award for her role in helping a young boy assist his father who had just collapsed after suffering a massive heart attack.

Balkus is one of four full-time dispatchers. The staff is augmented by two part-time dispatchers.

Balkus’ achievement speaks well not only for herself but the department’s entire dispatcher contingent, according to Fowler, who all have made a major difference by simply doing their jobs. Recently, dispatcher Donna Powierza helped deliver a baby boy over the phone and Monica Fitzpatrick comforted a woman whose residence was being burglarized while she was in the house. Dispatcher Kristine Harrison has been instrumental in securing grants that have enhanced the department’s communications capabilities.

As a group, dispatchers serve as the department’s liaison with the public and relay critical pieces of information to police officers responding to the most serious of calls. Fowler pointed to domestic violence calls as a prime example saying dispatchers are able to extract facts that could mean life or death, like whether there is a weapon involved, from mostly scared people.

“We’ve got a great group,” Fowler said. “They’re a very critical part of what we do.”