Sumner woman wins top prize for dispatching

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LEWISTON — Something desperate in the caller’s voice immediately alerted Patricia Fournier.

Fear has a sound of its own.

“You can tell by the tone of the voice,” said Fournier, a dispatcher for the Maine Department of Public Safety in Gray.

In the background of the call, smoke alarms rang. Meanwhile, the woman began to describe her predicament to Fournier: She was alone in an upstairs bedroom of her Windham home.

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And she was in a wheelchair.

“You’ve got to be calm,” said Fournier, who spent three years dispatching for Livermore Falls police before joining the state 15 years ago.

For the most intense call of her career, she stayed cool. She told the woman to get to the floor. Then she convinced her to crawl. Meanwhile, Fournier talked with people in Windham, making sure firefighters and paramedics rolled.

“I was like this,” Fournier said Friday, holding her hands to either side of her head, as if they were phone receivers.

She listened to the woman struggle, first to get to the floor. Then, once she got there, Fournier asked her to crawl down her stairs.

“She didn’t want to,” Fournier said.

Moments later, coughing against darkening clouds of smoke, the woman began her trek down the stairs. As she struggled to save her life, she took the phone with her, listening to Fournier for encouragement.

A narrative of the call — which took place Dec. 16 — was read aloud Friday at the 16th annual Maine Chapter of the National Emergency Number Association. The group, which represents dispatchers from around the state, honored Fournier, of Sumner, with its Telecommunicator of the Year award.

Fournier’s wasn’t the only dramatic story.

Narratives of nominees and team winners described hearing “blood-curdling” screams during pleas for help. They told stories of dispatchers who tracked down crooks on the Internet as the police talked to victims at the scene. Some dispatchers were honored for their coordination across several jurisdictions.

Dispatchers gave Fournier a standing ovation at Friday’s ceremony at the Ramada Inn. She was credited with helping the woman save her own life.

When the woman made it down the stairs, Fournier talked the scared and coughing woman to open her door and crawl outside.

“At this point, the caller could not catch her breath to talk and it sounded as though it was one constant cough,” went the narrative. “She was literally fighting to stay alive.”

A moment later, Fournier heard the voice of a firefighter on the other end of the line.

“Hearing them talk was like hearing an angel,” Fournier said.

dhartill@sunjournal.com

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