STANTON — The abused child crying on the other end of the line; the hysterical mother of a baby who has stopped breathing; the wails of the accident victim pinned behind the wheel of her car … all these haunt the waking hours of 9-1-1 emergency operators.
They perform what is often a thankless, stressful job, but from April 8-14, these dispatchers are being honored during National Public Safety Telecommunicator Appreciation Week.
“(We are) focusing the spotlight on the normally invisible men and women who take your 9-1-1 call and get the police, fire departments or ambulances rolling to the scene of the emergency,” explained Montcalm County Central Dispatch Authority Director Timothy Scott. “These professionals perform sometimes heroic tasks away from the public eye, sometimes talking a frantic parent through child CPR, keeping a crime victim calm until the police arrive, or convincing someone contemplating suicide that there is a reason to live.”
For those who answer these 9-1-1 calls, the job is a heady responsibility and one Montcalm County dispatchers like Michelle Rose take seriously. Every time she opens the line to a call, she knows she may be holding someone’s life in her hands, that her next few words or actions can give someone a chance at life, or take it away.
“When you’re in the heat of it, your adrenaline gets going,” Rose said. “The worst part of my job is the baby calls — where a baby has stopped breathing or a child has been abused. I have a real hard time trying to talk to a hysterical parent while getting them to begin CPR or get other help for the child.”
Many of the calls Rose and her fellow dispatchers receive are nonemergencies from callers who can’t be bothered to look up the nonemergency police numbers they should be calling. These, she says, “grind her gears” because they take attention away from true emergency calls, those in which a dispatcher might be able to offer some real assistance.
“People call when their house gets egged or over some other trivial matter,” Rose said. “This can take time away from a call where someone’s dealing with a heart attack or some other real emergency.”
Other calls end on a sad note, often because the caller has waited too long to call and his or her effort to perform CPR on a victim goes unrewarded. Performing successful CPR, Rose says, is frequently dependent on beginning the procedure immediately.
Every so often, however, dispatchers are able to help save a life. Moments like this make it all worthwhile, Rose says.
“It happened a couple months ago,” Rose said. “I took a call from a gentleman who had witnessed his wife stop breathing. He called within a minute or two of her going unresponsive. I gave him CPR instructions and he did really well. He kept it going while my partner gave out the information over the Greenville frequency. He was still performing CPR when the ambulance when everyone else arrived at the scene.
“It wasn’t until later that I found out both he and his wife were in wheelchairs,” Rose adds. “He had gotten out of his wheelchair and got her out of her wheelchair to perform the CPR. His wife lived. About a month later I had another case where they managed to get a pulse back and get the victim to the hospital. It was pretty rewarding and gratifying to help someone live.”
Scott applauded Rose’s efforts, as well as the efforts of her fellow dispatchers.
“Here in Montcalm County we are blessed to have a dedicated group of dispatchers who live and work in this community and bring a total of nearly 200 years of experience serving the residents of Montcalm County,” Scott said. “These 16 professionals have the training and experience to draw upon which makes them extremely effective in gathering the necessary information and getting the appropriate level of response … to the person that needs it as soon and safely as possible. The extra benefit of their many years of experience frequently helps them know the needs of the caller, the first responders and the geography of the county all aids in expediting the correct response to the appropriate location.”
Scott added that, though the technology and equipment advances used in the job make the dispatchers more efficient, in the final reel it is the operators themselves who truly make the program successful.
“It is the genuine empathy and concern that they show for the callers and victims that really sets them apart,” Scott said. “I encourage everyone to recognize the contributions of these first responders and appreciate their contributions on keeping us all safe and secure.”