Emergency Lifeline

Barnes Honored As Top 911 Dispatcher

Posted: April 19, 2014

Ashley Barnes, 27, of Singers Glen, has been named the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Emergency Communications Center’s Communicator of the Year. Barnes was noted in part for her quick action to help a woman going into labor deliver her baby. (Photo by Nikki Fox / DN-R)

HARRISONBURG — In December, as 911 dispatcher Ashley Barnes worked on the fifth floor of the Public Safety Building in downtown Harrisonburg, she received a call not unlike ones she gets every week — a woman was going into labor.

Barnes, a 27-year-old Chicago native and Singers Glen resident, began to give the soon-to-be mother’s friend instructions. But 37 seconds into the call, a baby girl entered the world.

“She was like, ‘The baby is coming out,’” Barnes recalled. “Then I heard the baby crying. I had to mute [the headset] for a second. I was about to cry.”

Her training kicked in and Barnes prepared the woman who lived on Logan Lane in Harrisonburg and her friend for the rescue squad that was on the way.

A sense of relief washed over her once she realized the baby was healthy, then her emotions came out.

“I’m a girl, so I was like, ‘Ahh, what did you guys name her?’” Barnes recalled.

For her efforts in helping deliver the baby, and her dedication to her job, she was named the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Emergency Communications Center’s Communicator of the Year during a ceremony Thursday.

“Upon this quick and unexpected change in the call, Ashley effortlessly turned her focus towards the administration of post-birth instructions for the child and the mother,” said Dee Dee Sencindiver, the agency’s operation manager. “Her caring and patient manner with the caller assisted all of those involved with the helpful and proper administration of care until responders arrived on location.”

 ‘Passion For Helping’

Barnes started her career at the HRECC about three years ago after the downtown restaurant she was working at closed. She dispatches for the Harrisonburg police and fire departments, Rockingham County Fire and Rescue, Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office and all the volunteer stations in the county.

Growing up, she had a desire to become a nurse, but couldn’t handle the hands-on part of the job dealing with blood and needles.

“I’ve always had a passion for helping people,” Barnes said. “This gave me that same feeling but I totally admire all the first responders that handle that.”

Although she gets to help people frequently, there are a few calls that stick out in Barnes’ mind.

Dispatchers regularly receive calls from people threatening suicide, but a call from a man in his mid-20s particularly hit home.

“He was the same age as me,” Barnes said. “I saw myself in him. I saw my brother in him. The last thing I wanted is someone to take their life over the phone.”

She talked to him, sharing stories from her life.

“I told him about my personal life. …  He told me about his,” Barnes said. Thankfully, he decided not to commit suicide.

That type of effort is what makes Barnes so valuable as an ECC communicator

“She possesses an intelligence for the job, a caring attitude and a drive and desire to excel in everything she undertakes,” Sencindiver said.

Contact Pete DeLea at 574-6278 or pdelea@dnronline.com

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