'We are the first, first responders': FCSO dispatcher recognized for helping save 2-year-old found in pool

Communications Specialist First Class Ashlie Hicks was one of 11 recipients of the Life Saving Award for walking a caller through CPR on a 2-year-old girl.

Ashlie Hicks has been a FCSO dispatcher for 14 years. Photo courtesy of the FCSO
Ashlie Hicks has been a FCSO dispatcher for 14 years. Photo courtesy of the FCSO
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Ashlie Hicks has been a 911 dispatcher with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office for 14 years, but the call she took last October was one of the most memorable of her career, she said.

“Some calls definitely affect you and stay in your mind more than others," Hicks said. "Kid calls are the worst. They're the ones that you never want to have to take, a traumatic call involving a child.”

On Oct. 22, a family called 911 when a two-year-old girl was found unresponsive in the home’s pool. Hicks immediately jumped into action.

“Is the child breathing,” she asked.

“No,” a woman said. In the background of the call, multiple adults could be heard yelling and crying.

“Okay, put the phone on speaker phone and I’ll walk you through CPR,” Hicks said.

And she did. A man took over the call, and Hicks told him to place the girl on her back. She described how he needed to do the compressions — place his hands in the center of her chest, press down two inches, let the chest go back up completely, repeat — and then counted out 30 compressions.

It took three rounds of compressions before the child began to make crying sounds. In order to make sure she was breathing clearly, Hicks asked for the phone to placed right next to the girl's mouth.

“Hearing that baby cry is something that I'll never forget,” Hicks said.

The call lasted almost eight minutes before a deputy arrived on scene and took over the child’s care.

Hicks’ calm intervention and life-saving instruction is what earned her the Life Saving Award at the FCSO’s quarterly award ceremony on Feb. 20. Hicks was one of 11 people to receive the Life Saving Award, though she was out of town for the ceremony itself.

Sheriff Rick Staly said dispatchers are the "invisible heroes of the agency."

"They're the face that you never see when you call 911," he said. "They have to be prepared for anything."

Staly, who has 49 years in law enforcement service, said he started his career as a dispatcher. 

Dispatchers and law enforcement in general have to learn to put the emotion behind them to deal with the situation at hand, Staly said. 

"Not everybody can be a dispatcher," he said. "It really takes a very unique person to do that."

Dispatchers go through almost a year of training, Staly and Hicks said. Hicks said dispatchers have to get CPR recertification every two years and also learn "an extensive" amount of medical information.

But a lot of dispatchers go unrecognized for their role, and in many states — Florida included — dispatchers are not recognized as first responders. According to NENA, a national 9-1-1 association for emergency communications professionals, only 19 states have reclassified telecommunicators as first responders or safety personnel.

Hicks said dispatchers are first responders, too, and can deal with a lot of mental trauma from the 911 calls. The FCSO is great about recognizing their efforts, she said, but on a national, and even on a state level, dispatchers are classified as "support personnel."

“We are the first first responders,” Hicks said. “There's a lot of history, a lot of dispatchers that suffer from PTSD and all sorts of trauma from these calls that we handle."

This call hit her pretty hard, she said. As relieved as she was to hear the child cry, Hicks said, she had to take go on a walk and call her fiancé once the call was over. Normally, she said, the call is where her involvement ends — it’s not often a dispatcher gets to know how a situation ends, whether for good or for bad.

But Hicks said she reached out to the deputy and fire personnel who arrived on scene. One of them told Hicks that he’d seen the little girl a few days later, playing as though nothing had happened.

“I feel like that moment was when I could finally like let that call kind of go in my brain,” she said. "That is the best case scenario. Because with a drowning you just never know. There could be all sorts of residual effects.”

It can be hard to turn the job off, Hicks said. 

"All of the bad that we deal with the good ones, get take away all the bad, in my opinion," she said. "To be able to have some hand in saving a life makes all of the hard parts of the job worth it.


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