Local public safety dispatchers received a special thanks this week for all that they do.
In honor of National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, observed April 13-19, the Baldwin County Sheriff's Office held a luncheon to recognize the men and women who serve as public safety dispatchers. Launched in 1991, Telecommunicators Week was introduced to Congress by the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials International.
During the luncheon Baldwin County Sheriff Bill Massee extended a special thanks to all dispatchers as detectives, deputies and administrative staff gathered to join him in commemorating the work that they do.
"Emergency dispatchers are our first line of defense. They are the first to get the call when someone needs help, and it's up to them to ask the right questions and assess the situation. The safety of our public and our deputies depends on them, and I think we have a great group working in our county," Massee said.
There are 11 dispatchers at the 911 dispatch center and four working at dispatch 100, which is a non-emergency dispatch service. It is a job that comes with a high level of stress and long hours.
"This is not your typical 9-to-5 style of work," said Capt. Lynnette LaRocque. "Our dispatchers are trained to deal with life or death situations on a daily bases, working 12-hour shifts almost every day."
Coping with the stress is just part of the job. According to LaRocque, dispatchers undergo three months of training. Training involves proper procedure when taking a call, dispatching procedures for fire departments, learning how to use radio equipment and basic knowledge of computer software.
Dispatchers must also learn how to get in contact with other law enforcement and emergency officials in the community who also work along with dispatchers during calls. These groups include the Georgia State Patrol, the Department of Natural Resources, Milledgeville Police Department, the Baldwin County Fire Department, the Georgia Department of Transportation as well as medical emergency personnel.
"You have to have great people skills and be able to be comfortable using technology," LaRocque added.
The luncheon also celebrated the upcoming Administrative Professionals Day, recognized nationally April 23. The sheriff's office decided to honor both groups collectively because most of them serve in both capacities.
April Screws, records clerk at the sheriff's office, started out as a 911 dispatcher. She worked as a dispatcher five years until she started her new administrative role. She still performs 911 duties, covering for 911 dispatchers while they take a break during their long shifts.
"It's a stressful job, but rewarding," she said.
Being prompt and alert are key components to the job, she added.
"You get a lot of call volume and you're sitting at a desk looking at information on four computers at the same time but you know you're the one who is that line of support for the caller so you manage to handle it calmly and efficiently."
The training she went through did help, but she admitted that the actual experience of taking a call is what really prepared her for the job.
Dispatcher Oscar Garcia has been working in the 911 dispatch center for five years. He was recognized at a previous celebration as the Dispatcher of the Year. He said he loves his job and is thankful that he's able to contribute and help someone in need.
"You deal with people who are going through an emotional and traumatic event, and by you being that calm person who can help them through it. It makes all the difference in the world."
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