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Front Page » September 20, 2007 » Focus on emergency prepared... » A Call for Help...dispatchers Job is to Aide Citizens and...
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A Call for Help...dispatchers Job is to Aide Citizens and Public Agencies


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher

Dennis Barry works at the controls of one of the dispatcher's stations at the Department of Public Safety dispatch in Price.

911.

Nine, one one.

It's a number almost everyone knows. It's the phone number that can be called when there is trouble, an accident, a dangerous crime or a death.

And at the end of dialing that number a voice comes on the line.

"Nine, one one. What's the address of your emergency," says the professional on the other end of the connection.

A professional? A person who answers a phone? The person who sends a cop, a fire fighter or an EMT?

Yes, that person. The person who is the lifeline for many caught in dangerous circumstances, the first contact with authorities who can solve a problem or help save a life.

Or maybe that person on the phone can save a life, or many lives too, just by talking through a situation.

Take Lillian Gold for example. As a dispatcher at the Carbon County center she got a call one lonely graveyard shift last year from a man who was threatening to kill his wife and all his kids. He had stabbed his wife already, so it was obvious that he might well carry through with his threats. With that call she became more than just the person who sends the cop, she became the negotiator, the life line for that family. Her consoling voice and cool manner kept a man who could have committed a more unthinkable crime from taking that step. He was eventually taken into custody, without much incident.

Just a voice on the phone? Never underestimate the impact or the skills of that person on the other end of the line at dispatch. They are there to help, and often it isn't easy for them.

"This is a very stressful job," said MarJean Hansen, the manager of the Carbon Call Center. "The people who work here have to go through a lot of certifications, many of them similar to the people we send out to help those who call. The hours are often bad and the pay is not great, but they love what they do."

Dispatchers meet once a month for a meeting to improve their efforts at the call center. With a crew of 13 people and an around the clock schedule, dispatching can be a grueling task, especially when people have to be gone. Those in this meeting included Jennifer Stefanoff, Jennifer Brewer, MarJean Hansen, Becky Jennings, Matt Montoya, Lillian Gold, Janie Jarvis, Albert "Buzz" Rondinelli, Johna Garner and Ted Cartwright. Missing from the group was David Johnson who was off. Meanwhile Dennis Barry and Kordine Nelson were handling the 911 boards while the meeting went on. The doors never close in the dispatcher business.

That is evident by the esprit de corp they show when they meet once a month to review what has been going on and what will be going on. A room filled with 11 dispatchers, all reviewing things that need to be done to improve their performance. Overall there are 13 dispatchers at the center, but of course, even while that important monthly gathering is going on, two of them have to man the phones.

"We just can't shut the doors during this meeting," said Hansen.

In a room not far away the two remaining members of the crew, Dennis Barry and Kordine Nelson take calls while they watch a half dozen computer screens and try to type, talk and assess situations at the same time.

"In the big call centers along the Wasatch Front the dispatchers have a different kind of life from what we have," said Buzz Rondinelli, whose voice is familiar to long time scanner listeners in the area. "Once the call comes in they can hand it off to a police dispatcher, or fire dispatcher or someone else who specializes in that area. We have to do it all, because at any one time there are usually only three of us on duty."

Rondinelli has been on the job for 18 years, and in fact started before the center had computers.

"Every once in a while I still grab a note pad and begin to take notes instead of going to the keyboard," he said. "I fall back on my original training."

Eighteen years is a long time at a job as stressful as a dispatcher, but most of those that work at the center are long term employees who have been there for years. It is in their blood. The job has often been compared to being an air traffic controller, but without as much control. It can be frustrating.

But then this is a job filled with frustrations. People often don't realize the distress they place on a system packed with calls that could be about life and death, when they play pranks or just ask stupid questions.

Dispatchers get calls about crazy things. Last week one of them got a call from a lady who found a baby goat outside her fence and asked if she picked it up, if she could keep it.

And then there are the calls that cram up the system for routine things like barking dogs, the phone number of the jail or asking what the weather is like over Soldiers Summit.

"A few years ago we had a call from someone who swore they saw a UFO crash and wanted us to send out someone to investigate," said Rondinelli. "We have to take calls seriously because we never know."

Then there are the kids that play on the phone, jamming up lines even more. That kind of action could cause the loss of a life.

Dispatchers are public servants and some people truly do try to treat them as servants. They get yelled at for things they can't control. They also have people who dial 911 just to talk, because they are lonely.

"This is an emergency center, not an information center," said Hansen.

It is the center of calls and dispatch for 33 government agencies, including all the police departments in Carbon County. They handle calls from Salina Canyon to Colorado and from the Bookcliffs to the Arizona border. Counties, police, fire fighters, EMT's, ambulance personnel and federal agencies count on them as a lifeline in emergencies.

Lillian Gold was honored as Utah dispatcher of the year by the Department of Public Safety in June of this year. She received the award because of her ability and composure in some very tense and possibly life threatening situations she handled as a dispatcher.

They must be ready to connect with one of the other six call centers in Utah at any time. The testing of these connections go on constantly, to be sure that all personnel can do it quickly, without hesitation. Sometimes connections must be made nationally too.

One time a call on a cell phone came from a flight crossing the Pacific Ocean about an incident on a plane involving a man choking. A west coast call center was contacted and eventually handled the emergency.

And as in all government jobs, sometimes bureaucracy gets in the way; mixed signals from various agencies and the way they want things handled or don't want them handled can be a problem.

"The coffee pot is always on here though," said Hansen. "Police officers often come in and they all know our dispatchers. We have a good relationship with all the agencies."

The hours are long. While shifts are supposed to be only eight hours long, when someone is sick or someone takes vacation that can change. So can the events in the area.

"Normally we have three dispatchers on duty and never less than two," said Hansen. "But during the Crandall Canyon disaster we had four at times to handle the extra workload."

Being a dispatcher is one of those hidden jobs; one where people don't think about the people who do it too much. But their training and their composure can often be the link between some incident becoming a disaster or one that has a successful outcome.

"Nine, one one. What is the address of your emergency."

Words to respect and to think about when trouble arises.

Words to be thankful for.


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