Summit County employee named Dispatcher of the Year

Joselyn Arellano-Hernandez recognized for response in Smith and Morehouse reservoir drowning last August

Summit County dispatcher Joselyn Arellano-Hernandez received the Dispatcher of the Year award from the State of Utah Bureau of EMS for her response during a serious drowning incident last August at the Smith and Morehouse Reservoir.
David Jackson/Park Record

A 24-year-old Summit County dispatcher was just finishing up the end of her shift last summer when she received a 911 call she wasn’t expecting but was ready for: three children were trapped in a vehicle and submerged underwater in the Smith and Morehouse Reservoir.

Lead dispatcher Joselyn Arellano-Hernandez, now 25, had been on the job for about a year when the report was made on Aug. 22, but the training she underwent ensured she was prepared to help. Her emergency response aided in the rescue of a 9-year-old boy, who was in extremely critical condition but walked out of a hospital 10 days after the drowning.

It also earned her recognition from the State of Utah Bureau of EMS, which awarded Arellano-Hernandez the Emergency Medical Dispatcher of the Year award on May 25.

“At the time Joselyn had been with the Summit County Dispatch Center for a little over a year, but held herself as if she was a veteran of 20 plus years,” Park City Fire District Battalion Chief Ashley Lewis said in his nomination of Arellano-Hernandez. “Nothing can prepare someone for a phone call like this and Joselyn was the right person on [the job] at the right time to help assist in saving this boy’s life.”

“For me, just being from Mexico, you can call it the American Dream. I just would’ve never thought as a little girl I’d get my foot in the door,” she said.

Arellano-Hernandez still remembers when the emergency phone rang. She had been talking with a coworker near a computer, but the ringing of the line told her it was time to switch into dispatcher mode.

The caller said a vehicle had slid down a boat ramp while a family was loading kayaks, and three young children were inside. Two of the children, another 9-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl, were rescued from the vehicle, but the third child was still trapped inside.

Arellano-Hernandez quickly yelled out the details of the incident to her team, who began dispatching emergency services to the scene. She continued speaking with the caller to acquire more information and send the appropriate resources while also helping the family manage the incident. Through training, Arellano-Hernandez learned how to multitask under pressure and maintain a calm demeanor. This allows her to prevent stressful situations from escalating.

The 9-year-old boy had been submerged for more than 10 minutes when a nearby kayaker heard calls for help. The man was a former state park ranger, and it took him more than five tries to reach the boy as the vehicle was around 20 feet underwater, according to Lewis.

After being pulled from the water, the boy was determined to be in cardiac arrest and needed life-saving measures. Arellano-Hernandez proceeded to give CPR instructions to the former state park ranger until a medical helicopter arrived by air.

The boy was transported to a Salt Lake Valley hospital, where he returned home days after he was on life support. Lewis said the heroic actions taken by Arellano-Hernandez and bystanders allowed this to happen.

The incident remains one of the highest priority calls Arellano-Hernandez has taken to date. And it sticks with her.

“I feel grateful and honored,” she said, adding that it took a team. “I was put in the right place, just like the kayaker who helped save the boy’s life.”

Summit County Dispatch organizes a weekly training where the staff goes through different call scenarios to help them prepare for a real situation. Dispatchers also learn skills that they develop over time such as how to “read a room” and how to manage a constant stream of information.

Arellano-Hernandez appreciates the smaller agency in Summit County because it creates a family-like feeling at work. She lives in Wasatch County and applied for the position in Summit County a little more than two years ago because of a strong desire to join the field of law enforcement.

“For me, just being from Mexico, you can call it the American Dream. I just would’ve never thought as a little girl I’d get my foot in the door,” she said.

Despite the burnout that can come from working in the field, Arellano-Hernandez said she has a great family and team that provide her with the support she needs. She also enjoys hiking, traveling and hanging out with friends to help disconnect from the job.

Park City Fire District Battalion Chief Ashley Lewis, left, nominated lead dispatcher Joselyn Arellano-Hernandez, second from left, for a state award recognizing her professionalism, which she received on May 25. Arellano-Hernandez’s mother and stepfather also posed for the photo.
Courtesy of the Summit County Sheriff’s Office

Recognition for her hard work helps, too.

Arellano-Hernandez learned she earned the Dispatcher of the Year award a few weeks ago at home. It made her emotional because she doesn’t do this work expecting something, but rather to do some good. She said it’s important and rewarding, even if dispatchers are sometimes overlooked because they’re not at the scene.

Coworkers described Arellano-Hernandez as a breath of fresh air, upbeat and positive, driven, compassionate and quick thinking. Someday, she may consider becoming a deputy or detective. But right now, she’s happy where she is.

“I love what I do,” Arellano-Hernandez said.


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