Fairfield Ledger
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Neighbors Growing Together | Jul 31, 2014

Dispatchers honored for service this week

By DIANE VANCE | Apr 19, 2013
Shannon Price is one of six dispatchers working at Jefferson County Law Enforcement Center. The dispatchers answer all phone calls coming into the center, 9-1-1 and the regular phone, talk with sheriff deputies and police, as well as fire, ambulance, emergency management, state patrol and others. Dispatchers manage five computer screens at once and talk to walk-ins entering the lobby.

The newest dispatcher at Jefferson County Law Center, Shannon Price, was hired in December, trained on the job and has been working her own rotating shifts after the first nine weeks.

Dispatchers, the people who answer 9-1-1 emergency calls, work 12-hour shifts in Jefferson County.

As the newest hire, Price fills in among the other shifts, sometimes working 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. or 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“It doesn’t matter to me having a rotating shift,” she said. “I like them all.”

Sometimes she works with another dispatcher; sometimes it’s a solo position. The law center has a total of six dispatchers.

“If we have more than one thing going on at a time, and we’re working alone, we have to prioritize,” said Price.

Her favorite part of the job is the people.

“I like the people I work with,” she said. “That includes other dispatchers, the police, the sheriff deputies, the county attorney — I like working here.”

Throughout the 12-hours shifts, a dispatcher will manage five computer screens, talk on the phone to citizens and with law enforcement personnel in their vehicles, direct visitors, open secure doors, answer questions and ask questions — “a lot of questions,” said Price.

She said the hardest part of the job is the stress of 9-1-1 calls, because she wants to get it right.

“I’m wanting to make sure I’m getting all the information and responding with correct actions,” said Price.

In addition to on-the-job training, dispatchers take a class and are Emergency Medical Dispatcher certified. Dispatchers must earn eight hours of continuing education credits per year.

“We have an EMD reference chart for emergencies, and have a specific set of questions to ask the caller,” said Price.

Each caller is asked the basics, then the dispatcher moves on to specific questions according to what the caller is reporting.

“People get angry sometimes when they call in an emergency and have to answer all these questions, but the more information dispatch can provide to officers, the better they can handle the emergency,” said Fairfield Police Chief Julie Harvey.

“We need to know if police are needed, if fire needs to be called in, or the ambulance, whether the Jaws of Life are needed or if we need other agencies or any backup,” said Harvey.

Specific questions can lead to the dispatcher giving the caller instructions to perform CPR, or how to slow bleeding or assist a birth. Each dispatcher is trained in CPR.

“People in an emergency talk to us first,” said Price. “We’re their first contact and they can be stressed or scared and it comes out as anger.”

Waiting for a response in an emergency can seem like the longest time in the world, Harvey acknowledged.

Each 9-1-1 call that an official responds to needs a case report, generated by the dispatcher. If more than one agency responds, there needs to be a case report for each agency, such as the fire department, the sheriff, the state patrol, etc.

“Each dispatcher is assigned additional duties which rotate each year so everybody gets to learn all aspects,” said Harvey. “Our head dispatcher Tammy Thomas does all the paper work for parking enforcement.”

Once a month, dispatchers test the emergency warning sirens.

“Once a month, they take down this whole computer system and plug in the old telephones and practice using that,” said Harvey. “We had our tower go out here once and it took down the whole system, so dispatchers need to be prepared and trained.”

The dispatchers also talk with all walk-in visitors and direct them to someone to assist them and control the secure doors leading off the lobby into either the Fairfield Police Department or the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.

Dispatchers monitor video feed on monitors from cameras placed around the building.

Sunday through Saturday has been National Public Safety Telecommunications Week.

“Our dispatchers do a great job and do so many things the public might not be aware of,” said Harvey.

“I want our dispatchers to know we appreciate them. This job is not for everyone; if you can’t multi-task, you won’t like it,” she said. “I couldn’t sit in here 12 hours and talk. But we do support our dispatchers and provide additional help when needed.”

The recognition week is designated as a time when citizens can thank public safety men and women who respond to emergency calls and dispatch emergency professionals and equipment during times of crisis, according to the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials website apco911org.

This includes 9-1-1 call-takers, dispatchers and technicians that maintain radio and emergency phone systems, communications staff trainers, communications center personnel and other public safety telecommunications staff across the country who work tirelessly, often behind the scenes, to help the community during emergencies.

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