It’s been a week to thank people in a thankless job.
The men and women in law enforcement are celebrating Public Safety Telecommunicators Week by honoring their dispatchers with a little fun and appreciation.
The cake and balloons and messages of thanks bring some lightness to the stress of listening to emotional people in life-and-death situations on a daily basis.
Dispatchers answer each 911 emergency call, try to assess the kind of emergency they’re dealing with, and get the appropriate help to the person making the call — all as quickly as possible.
And while they’re in a position to save people’s lives — often several times during a shift — they’re also responsible to make sure the officers they dispatch aren’t walking into a deadly situation.
“I look at them as the ‘first’ first responders, because they do so much more than just answer phone calls,” said Lt. Chris Williams of the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s paramount not just for the person they may be communicating with as a first voice when they call in — the information they relay to us in the field over the radio could be paramount to our safety as well.”
The Charlotte County dispatch center was decorated with balloons and streamers to resemble a circus tent, because the job “does feel like juggling,” said communications director Melanie Bailey. Food and special dress-up days marked the week of dispatcher pride.
“Everyone in this career that I’ve had the pleasure of working with, they’re all very proud of what they do, and it’s not easy,” said Charlotte County Dispatcher Sebastian Friend.
“A lot of people will just off-the-cuff look at it as, ‘Oh, you answer the phone, and you’re directing them, how can it be stressful?’ With not knowing the outcome most of the time, and not being able to physically be there for people when they’re hurting or when they need assistance, just seeing the pride and camaraderie that goes on in that room, it’s inspiring a lot of the time.”
Friend, who has worked in the Charlotte County dispatch center for about two and a half years, said it’s a stressful but rewarding job.
“Everyone’s used to the Hollywood idea that there’s always going to be a cop everywhere, and why aren’t they here right now?” he said. “Law enforcement as a whole is very short staffed. Dispatch … is already heavily short staffed. The roads are short on people. It’s a career-wide issue if you look up the stats for it.”
The biggest frustrations people usually have with 911 is wondering why first responders aren’t there immediately and why dispatchers ask so many questions, Friend said.
“We’re not trying to ask questions to add to the stress,” he said. “We’re just trying to assess the situation further and assess any safety issues for people that are already on scene and our guys that are coming in.”
For medical situations, there are strict protocols about the questions that must be answered to get the right amount of people and equipment to the scene to help.
One of the toughest things about the profession, Friend said, is not always knowing the outcome. When dispatchers do get a follow up or a thank you, it stands out.
“Sometimes you get that instant gratification with CPR,” he said. “There have been times where we get people to resuscitate and actually come back, so to speak, and you get the instant gratification of them saying thank you as law enforcement’s continuing CPR or the paramedics taking them to the hospital, and it looks like it’s going to have a positive outcome.”
The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office marked the week by having deputies share messages of thanks on white boards. Photos of them holding the boards were posted on social media.
“I have 20 years as a British police officer, and over 20 years at the Sarasota Sheriff’s Office,” Deputy Philip Wrench wrote on a board. “My 2.5 years in comm. were the hardest. It is a very difficult job, stressful and demanding. I admire all the folks who work there. Thank you!”
“Thank you for always being the vital link that keeps me updated with important information and connected to those who could come to my aid if it’s ever needed,” Deputy Lincoln Dilling wrote. “This job could not be done safely without you. Thank you!”