’They’re heroes in my mind’: Local dispatchers recognized for their integral role in public safety during National Public Safety Telecommunications Week
Long hours, chaos and stress are some of the defining characteristics of a dispatcher’s daily job.
For the most part, these individuals remain behind the scenes at computer monitors but this week they are being recognized for their hard work and dedication.
National Public Safety Telecommunications Week, held each year during the second week of April, recognizes the integral role dispatchers play as a part of first responders’ teams, including fire, police and EMS.
“We couldn’t operate much without those guys. They gather such good information and do such a good job of relaying it to us. They’re just vital to what we do,” said Tim Lee, Ardmore Fire Department Fire Marshall.
Carter County E911 Coordinator Shelly Dragg has been working in the field for around 27 years now and on the weekends she works as a dispatcher for the Lone Grove Police Department.
On average, Dragg said dispatchers in Ardmore handle around 100 non-emergency calls per day and around 2,700 emergency 911 calls come through Carter County each month. Dispatchers also take animal control calls and after hours public works calls.
Though chaotic and stressful, the job can be rewarding as well, Dragg said. Dispatchers are always the first to speak with people during emergency situations.
“We’ve got to be kind of counselors and figure out how to make heads or tails of what an upset person is trying to explain to us,” Dragg said. “Try to calm them down and get the correct information for the responders in the field to be able to be most prepared before they get on scene.”
It takes a certain kind of person to be able to handle the pressure from the job, Dragg said. Often dispatchers are faced with challenges such as having to multitask, make on the spot decisions, prioritize calls coming in and staying calm when a caller is distressed or cursing them out.
“Sometimes it’s hard,” Dragg said. “There’s certain calls that just stick with you for your entire career that you never let go of, but we try to learn from every call we handle to make the next call a better outcome.”
As a precaution taken to help keep first responders safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19, dispatchers have recently begun asking callers a series of questions that will help them identify if the subject has any symptoms.
If there is reason to be concerned, the dispatchers let the responding units know using a generic notification understood by all departments, Dragg said.
Within the last six months Lee said the fire department has also been working with area dispatchers to bring them to the department and help them get to know the equipment. “That way when they dispatch us out on a grass fire they’ll understand what a brush truck is. It’s been helpful for sure,” he said.
Dispatchers let the firefighters know where a fire is located, where the nearest fire hydrant is, what weather conditions are like, details about the emergency and more.
However, because dispatchers are more often just a voice behind the phone, they don’t get as much recognition for their hard work.
“They’re not on the front line so they don’t get the recognition they need sometimes,” Lee said. “They’re usually held up in an office because they work 12 hour shifts, as far as I know, and they work a lot of long hours.”
Though grateful that dispatchers are being recognized for a week on a national level, Dragg said she believes dispatchers should be recognized all of the time.
“They do need to be put on the forefront and recognized for the hard job that they do,” Dragg said. “I completely understand what the dispatchers deal with. I support them in every way, shape and form and they’re heroes in my mind.”