“Fire Department, what is the address of the emergency?”
That’s how Cheryl Curtis answers every call that comes into the Metro Cities Fire Authority (Metro Net) dispatch center. Each call is as unpredictable as the last, and all require immediate attention and response.
A 35-year veteran of the department, Curtis has responded to every call imaginable, from structure fires, to vehicle pileups, to serious medical emergencies and everything in between. Each call requires Curtis to play multiple roles at once: listener, communicator and therapist.
On May 15, 2015 at 3:08 p.m., Curtis received a call that, unbeknownst to her, would be much different than others.
There was a calm female voice on the other end of the call:
“My dad’s been having seizures recently, he has a history of seizures. […] I just saw him fall and hit his head on the corner of the wall and he’s starting to have a seizure.”
Curtis immediately dispatched Anaheim Fire & Rescue paramedics while getting detailed information from the caller, including medical history.
“Now… now… now,” the caller said calmly, every time her father took a breath.
He began to seize again.
“When he does stop seizing, we’ll lay him down and try to check his breathing again. […] Can you put him on his side?”
The caller couldn’t because there was a chair in the way.
“He’s trying to talk but he can’t get anything out; he’s just trying to talk,” the caller said.
The caller remained calm as Curtis provided instructions to monitor her father until help arrived. The call lasted less than five minutes — the time it took for Capt. Michael Byard and his company to arrive from Station 1.
Based on the calm demeanor of the caller, Byard was surprised at who answered the door: a 12-year-old girl.
Angela Chute, an only child whose mother was at work when she made the 911 call, is credited with getting the help that saved her father’s life.
Her father, William Chute, was able to receive the on-scene treatment he needed and was transported to a local hospital. His seizures were the result of a head injury he suffered during a basketball game.
When Byard returned to the station, he was so impressed by Angela’s composure that he dashed out an email to his superiors and recommended Angela be recognized for her calm courage. Anaheim Fire & Rescue Chief Randy Bruegman agreed.
On Friday, July 17, at Anaheim Fire and Rescue headquarters, Angela, with mother and father in tow, reunited with Captain Byard and the other first responders on the call: Firefighter Engineer Shane Lindstrom, Firefighter Paramedic Michael Eskay and Firefighter Michael Hoover.
And for the first time, Angela and Curtis were able to meet face to face.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Curtis told Angela. “I listened to that call several times and it’s very impressive. You and your parents should be very proud.”
Byard turned to the girl wearing purple-framed eyeglasses.
“We were able to help your dad because you were so cool, calm and collected,” Byard told her. “You knew his medical history and medications. How old are you again?”
“Twelve,” Angela replied.
“I thought you were much older,” Byard said.
Said Curtis: “Angela was so calm and composed I assumed she was an adult. Most adults don’t handle emergency calls as well as she did.”
Bruegman presented Angela with a gift basket and a Challenge Coin, a very special honor given from Anaheim Fire & Rescue to those with a servant’s heart.
“You are now part of our family,” Bruegman told Angela. “Great job.”
Angela, who loves to read and care for animals — her family has two cats and she has two pet corn snakes, Oliver and Angel — took the coin with a big smile on her face.
“I’m going to put it in my treasure chest with my collection,” she said. “I have a big shark tooth and a pearl so far.”
William Chute said Angela’s fearlessness and composure partly comes from her experience with speaking in front of large groups of people at church starting at a very young age.
“She used to be very shy,” he said. “Now she has no problem talking to children and adults alike.”
Said Bernadette Chute, Angela’s mother: “She also has been in talent shows; she’s a wonderful singer.”
Added William Chute: “She wanted a pet snake, so we thought it would be a good idea to get them for her to expose her to new things in order to not be afraid of new experiences. I think that’s what helped her become the calm and composed young lady she is today.”
As a special treat, Curtis gave Angela a tour of Metro Net’s emergency dispatch center, where she learned exactly what goes into a 911 call.
“It takes a very large team and significant coordination,” Curtis told her.
When asked what she wants to be when she grows up, Angela replied, “Nurse and veterinarian.”
Angela’s mother stated: “The many experiences she has had recently with her father’s medical condition and interaction with firefighters, paramedics, doctors and nurses and hospitals has actually reaffirmed her desire to be a caregiver as she is able to handle very stressful situations.”
“I think we have a future firefighter or EMT on our hands,” Metro Net Manager Gary Gionet told Angela. “Would you consider coming into the fire response side a year from now? You can be an explorer if you’d like. But you have to wait until you’re 14. Does that sound like something you’d like to do?”
“Yes!” Angela said with excitement.
Curtis beamed with pride.
“We’d love to have you on our team!” she told Angela.
Angela’s story serves as a powerful reminder of the importance in teaching children proper 911 protocol in the case of an emergency. Basic questions that require quick answers are as follows:
When to call: To report a crime in progress, a medical emergency, a fire. Call only for an emergency and be sure to speak clearly.
What to say: Where you are (addresses or landmarks nearby) that will give the dispatcher a better idea of your location. The phone number you are calling from. What the emergency is. Who you are.
What to do next: Stay on the line and listen carefully for instructions from the dispatcher.
Most important of all, as Angela demonstrated with flying colors, stay calm.