National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week Honors Heroes Behind the Scenes
(Photo: Clarion County 9-1-1 Dispatcher Kristen Henry)
9-1-1 dispatchers are typically anonymous, a voice through a phone during a time of hardship, but they are also a major part of the life-saving process as the first point of contact for people dealing with an emergency situation.
Clarion County currently has ten full-time certified telecommunicators, four part-time certified telecommunicators, one full-time trainee, and one part-time trainee. Most days they work 12-hour shifts and rotate nights and days every two weeks.
Clarion’s telecommunicators go through over 500 hours of training before becoming a certified telecommunicator. The training consists of classroom and hands-on training. They must be certified in Emergency Telecommunications, Emergency Medical Dispatch, Emergency Fire Dispatch and Emergency Police Dispatch as part of this training. Hands-on training includes answering administrative, after hours, and emergency calls, dispatching police, medical, and fire responders, and sometimes doing more than one of these at a time.
The week of April 8 to April 14 is National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week.
Sponsored by the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International and celebrated annually, this week honors the thousands of men and women who respond to emergency calls, dispatch emergency professionals and equipment, and render life-saving assistance to people in need.
Though the job is vital, it certainly isn’t easy.
Michelle L. Lander, Clarion County 9-1-1 Deputy Director, spoke to exploreClarion.com about some of the challenges the dispatchers face.
“As a telecommunicator, you come into your shift not knowing what the day may bring. You might walk into your shift and the first call is a wrong number, followed by a call for an elderly patient who fell. The next shift you walk in and the first call is a mother screaming that her baby stopped breathing, or a wife who found her husband on the floor and he won’t wake up. We’ve all experienced these types of calls.”
“The job as a telecommunicator is not for everyone. You must be able to multi-task and have split-ear. What this means is that you must be able to listen to the caller, type what they are telling you, and speak to an officer calling you on the radio, all at the same time.”
“I honestly believe the hardest part of our job is rarely getting to hear the end of the story. We usually don’t get to hear the outcome of the call where you helped the mother perform CPR on her baby who stopped breathing or the outcome of the pregnant mother who was having labor pains too soon.”
Lander noted that though the dispatchers often don’t find out the final outcome of the calls they take, it can still have its rewarding moments.
“When you know you’ve helped to save a life, or helped a family to locate their missing child who wandered away because you relayed all the information to the responders it’s heartwarming.”
Though they appreciate the recognition of what they do, they’re keeping National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week low key in Clarion County.
“This week is a special week to honor those who are heard but never seen. As they say, ‘the calm voice in the dark night.'”
“Local businesses and some of our vendors have supplied lunches and desserts to help honor our telecommunicators this week.”
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