In a time of crisis, they’re the calming voice on the other end of the phone line, the one with answers or advice.
They’re 911 dispatchers, the people many call “the life blood” of public safety.
“They’re the true first responders,” said Lt. Col. John Cagle of the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office. “This is where it all starts.”
Dawson County joined agencies from across the nation last week to honor public safety dispatchers during National Telecommunicators Week.
“They are truly the first life link,” said Debra Wimpy, director of the local 911. “When you drive up to a wreck and there’s three or four police cars, a couple of fire trucks, an ambulance and they’re landing a helicopter, it all starts here.”
Wimpy gave each officer on her staff a certificate of appreciation and several tokens of gratitude throughout the week.
“We have, in my opinion, the best staff that we’ve had in many years,” she said. “They work great together. They are very professional.
“They’re very adamant about their jobs and they take it very seriously.”
The county has about a dozen dispatchers. They are based out of the 911 operations facility, which is in the Dawson County Law Enforcement Center.
Veteran dispatcher Stanley Elrod said it’s more than a job for him and most of his colleagues.
“It gets and stays in your blood,” he said. “Being able to come into work, assist the public, be there for your deputies and your fire department, your EMS guys, and being able to save lives is real rewarding.
“The satisfaction of knowing you have helped someone in crisis that day enriches your life.”
Sometimes that satisfaction is their only reward, said Wimpy, describing the job of 911 dispatcher as one of the most stressful and least appreciated.
“There are always many thanks to the officers, to the paramedics, to the doctors,” she said. “But they will never mention your true first responders, who are your 911 people.”
Communications officer Karen Posten said they have little time to think about being “unsung heroes.”
“There are days where we don’t turn around and see each other’s face for three or four hours at a time we’re so busy,” she said.
Dispatchers field between 80 to 150 calls each 12-hour shift for fire, emergency services and the sheriff’s office.
“Even though you come into work every day, you never know what you’re going to get into when that phone rings,” Elrod said. “You don’t know if it’s someone wanting a cat out of a tree or their husband had just passed away or there’s an armed robbery.
“You don’t know what you’re getting into when you answer that phone.”