Ambulance Delay Heightens Tragedy of Child's Death
Posted on Thursday, December 3rd, 2009
Carol and Rick Sommers of Leon display a picture of their three-month old son, Michael Richard Sommers. His death gave them a sense of urgency to improve emrgency response with E911.
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Few understand the meaning of urgent response like Carol and Rick Sommers.
The couple waited more than 35 minutes for an ambulance to arrive from a station only 2.5 miles away while they frantically applied CPR to their infant son.
Michael Richard Sommers, three months old, died that February day in 1983.
His death was classified as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), Carol Sommers said. He could not be awakened from a nap at the babysitter’s house outside Fairbanks, Alaska.
The caretaker had already called 911 for help before the Sommers arrived after work to pick up Michael and his two-year-old sister, Wendi. The parents were unaware that anything was wrong.
“It was a horrible scene,” Carol Sommers said. “Rick put the baby on the carpet in the bedroom and started CPR. I called the ambulance again. We kept going until they got there.”
Why did it take almost 40 minutes for emergency aid to travel 2.5 miles?
The Sommers named conditions like those they find in Love County today – a rural area, absence of addressing, no enhanced 911 to sort out automatically where an emergency call is coming from and which ambulance/fire/police service should respond.
In their case, a snowstorm and difficulty mustering members of a volunteer department also figured in the delay in reaching their son.
“Could it have made a difference in his life? I don’t know, I don’t know,” Carol Sommers said.
The couple retired to Leon in August and joined the volunteer fire department. They said they feel a heightened sense of urgency to get out the vote for E911 on Dec. 8.
“We must do this!” Carol Sommers says of upgrading Love County’s emergency response system. “We must take the first step forward. No one should have to live through what we did.”
Prompted by the tragedy in their family, the couple became involved in emergency management during their careers.
Rick Sommers, an electronics specialist, installed and maintained the first E911 system for a military base in Fairbanks.
The customized system assigned addresses to rooms, floors, and cubicles of 417 buildings, many of which were 400 feet in length. The purpose was to guide responders to specific entrances in responding to alarms for fires and break-ins.
“I was in on the ground floor of the project, doing the addressing, then operating the main system. When an alarm sounded, the dispatcher would see on a computer screen a layout of the building and understand immediately where to send the fire department or military police,” Rick Sommers said.
His wife, meanwhile, worked for a Fairbanks hospital and engaged in programs dealing with disaster preparedness.
In 2006, the couple moved to Reno, Nevada, where Carol became police/emergency manager for a Department of Defense site in Herlong, California.
“This was more rural than Leon, but it had E911. I supervised the dispatchers,” she said.
She was born in Love County and is the daughter of Wanda and Joe Frazier. Her brother, Dennis Frazier, is a captain with the Leon Volunteer Fire Department and chairman of its board.
The family knows both sides of emergency response – how victims and their families feel about avoidable delays and how responders feel about not having the best opportunity to arrive quickly.
“No emergency responder wants to be asked, ‘why didn’t you get here sooner?’” Carol Sommers said.
The Sommers have been married 31 years. Both were raised in military families. Rick Sommers is an Army veteran who served two tours in Vietnam. The couple met in Fairbanks.