9-1-1 dispatchers play star role in rescue

By Abby Morris
star staff

   The phone rings and you answer it. On the other end of the line a frantic voice is asking for help, and you are their life line in this, their time of need.
   Such is the life of a 9-1-1 dispatcher, the first person many in need talk to when something goes wrong, whether it is a car accident, a burning home, or a sick or injured loved one.
   "It takes a very special person to be a dispatcher," said Glenna Morton, interim director of the Carter County 9-1-1.
   The Carter County 9-1-1 call center is manned with nine full-time dispatchers and six part-time dispatchers. "I'm so proud of them," Morton said. "Each and everyone of them is wonderful. They are so giving."
   Morton said she feels that sometimes 9-1-1 dispatchers are not as appreciated as they should be. "During an emergency, I think it's the most important role because just by dialing 9-1-1, a person can get help," she said. "They get to talk to a person and tell them what their problem is."
   The job of a dispatcher is one that is "high stress" according to Lou Eller, assistant director for Carter County 9-1-1. "It's the most nerve wrecking thing," she said. "It really is a hard job."
   In 2002, dispatchers at the call center handled more than 70,000 calls. On Feb. 22 of this year, the two dispatchers on duty handled approximately 120 calls between 6 a.m. and noon about flooding around the county.
   Of those many calls the center receives, the hardest to take are the ones that deal with children, according to Dale Blevins, training supervisor for the dispatchers, and Joni Lewis, the center's newest dispatcher. "I think the hardest call to take, and you try to do everything you can, is when it deals with a small child," Blevins said. "Sometimes after a call like that, you just have to step away and take a breath."
   Blevins has been with Carter County 9-1-1 for approximately eight years, and Lewis has been with the department for about eight months.
   Another aspect that makes the job of a dispatcher hard is the fact that when people call they are often not calm and often it is difficult to find out necessary information to help the person. "Some people don't give you much information," Lewis said. "They want you to hurry and get someone there and they hang up on you."
   If an emergency arises and a person needs to call 9-1-1, the best method for coping is to remain calm and attempt to give the dispatcher as much information as possible, Lewis said.
   "The information we are asking for is to help them," Blevins said, adding that dispatchers have a certain protocol they must follow when they are taking a call.
   No day is the same and no call is routine, according to both Lewis and Blevins. Every call is taken seriously, and dispatchers do their best to get help to the scene as fast as possible. "We are the life line for everyone, not just the caller, but the rescue squad or the officer," Blevins said. "If something goes wrong, they look to us to get them help."
   Lewis and Blevins both feel that their jobs can lead to a lot of stress due to the amount of calls they take and the nature of those calls. "You can't let things bother you when you get home," Lewis said. Blevins agreed adding, "You have to learn that when you leave work, you leave the work here."
   The job of a dispatcher takes dedication, according to Morton. To become a dispatcher, individuals must undergo 120 hours of supervised training, a three-day training session on dispatching medical calls, a week long class in Nashville to learn to operate the National Crime Information Center computer system, and a class to become certified in CPR, according to Blevins.