Harford County Department of Emergency Services

On August 18, 2017, Harford County, Md. was being inundated with severe lightning storms. One of our evening shift calltakers was taking a 911 call when they felt a shock through their headset, causing her to scream. Two dispatchers noticed sparks coming off the corner of our building and notified the supervisor. After discussing the possibility that our building had been struck by lightning, other dispatchers began to come forward with symptoms. Many reported tingling sensations and headaches. We immediately notified the Harford County Volunteer Fire and EMS Foundation Supervisor who is housed in our building, and began to alert ambulances to evaluate our dispatchers. During these evaluations, calls still needed to be entered and dispatched. It was difficult to get EKG readings because the dispatcher needed to be completely still. The immense amount of radio traffic that comes with these summer time storms doesn’t care to take a break, so neither could we. Nine of our twelve dispatchers were transported to our local hospital. Our close vicinity to our hospital allowed our medic units to transport dispatchers to the hospital and come back to 911 for the next dispatcher. Midnight shift was able to come in almost 4 hours before their shift to make sure that their coworkers could be treated, and that our citizens could still get the services that they needed. All dispatchers fully recovered from symptoms of what was determined to be a discharge of static electricity due to a lightning strike. The teamwork that we saw on this day between Harford County 911 evening shift and night shift, the EMS providers of Harford County Volunteer Fire and EMS Foundation, and the staff of Upper Chesapeake Medical Center was second to none.