Imagine going to a job every day and facing the unknown potentially every minute.
And knowing the life or lives of a lot of people are literally in your hands from the time you clock in for work until you clock out.
It’s a way of life for those who serve the residents of Baldwin County on a 24-hour basis, day and night, every weekend and every holiday — 365 days a year.
These women and men work under the umbrella of the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office and are highly-trained and skilled to help people in every way imaginable.
These dedicated women and men work behind the scenes of emergency calls, whether it’s a bad wreck, a domestic call where someone is in harm’s way, when a deputy sheriff or some other person in law enforcement needs help, or some other dire situation where the lives of countless people might be in the balance.
The people handling those situations are always behind the scenes, their voices heard over a phone line, but their faces seldom seen.
They are the people who make up the Baldwin County Emergency 911 Center.
“I’m extremely proud of them — every single person that works up here,” said Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Lynnette LaRocque, “for the amount of staff that we have versus the [number] of calls that we take and all the different things that come out of our 911 Center, because those phones are always ringing.”
Last year, there were nearly 150,000 calls that came through the Baldwin County 911 Center, LaRocque said.
“That number is increasing every year, and now that we are dispatching for Milledgeville Police Department — at least the pre-alert on the serious calls we’re doing the whole dispatch for them,” LaRocque said. “A lot of times, I think people think when you call 911 and an operator picks up the phone all they have to do is one thing, but it’s much more than that.”
She used a robbery call as an example.
“Let’s say someone was injured during a robbery,” LaRocque said. “Look at all the different agencies that are going to be involved in that. You’ll even have troopers with the Georgia State Patrol to call in for help, state probation officers; you’ve got to call EMS. There’s just a lot more to it.”
Mandy Ptak oversees the Baldwin County 911 Emergency Center as its director.
Recently, dispatchers Megan Kennedy and Jessica Shaw talked with The Union-Recorder about what they encounter on the job.
Kennedy has worked as a 911 emergency dispatcher for nearly 13 years.
“It is night and day,” Kennedy said, noting the vast number of changes she’s seen since coming on the job are related to technology. “It’s all completely different.”
Asked what she likes most about what she does, Kennedy quickly replied.
“I love my job,” Kennedy said. “I get to help people on some of their worst days. It has been an exciting experience — these last 13 years.”
Kennedy said she likes every minute of the job because so many things happen or can happen in such a short period of time.
“You can actually be doing one second to being wide-open the next second,” Kennedy said. “No day is the same as the previous day. Every day is different.”
When it comes to the stress of the job, Kennedy, who serves as a 911 shift supervisor, said that’s something she tends to deal quite well.
“I just roll with whatever comes at me,” said Kennedy, who is married and the mother of two sons, ages 14 and 6. Her husband, John, is a lieutenant with Baldwin County Fire Rescue.
Kennedy is a 2004 graduate of Baldwin High School and was born and raised in Milledgeville.
Shaw is one of Kennedy’s colleagues in the 911 center. She will be have completed her eighth year with the county in August.
Prior to working as a 911 emergency dispatcher, Shaw worked as a dental assistant and a pharmacy technician.
“It was kind of drastic, but at the same time being a dental assistant you have your emergencies and now you answer the phone and try to get people help,” Shaw said when asked what it was like leaving those fields to work as a 911 emergency dispatcher.
She said she switched careers because she always had a desire to want to work in law enforcement.
“I come from a law enforcement background,” Shaw said. “My grandfather was Rusty Wagoner. He was captain over detectives at the (Milledgeville) [police department]. My uncle, Michael Wagoner, was an officer at the PD back in the day. My mom was a dispatcher. So, I guess you could say, it’s in my blood.”
Shaw followed in the footsteps of her mother, who served as a 911 emergency dispatcher at the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office in Eatonton for seven years.
“I originally wanted to go on the road,” Shaw said.
But not so much anymore.
“I came here and I’ve gotten to see that this, too, is a big part of law enforcement and not a lot of people can do it,” Shaw said. “It’s a very difficult job. We’re not out to see what they (deputies and police officers) see, but we hear it. And it’s just as bad.”
Shaw, a 2005 graduate of Putnam County High School in Eatonton, said she’s glad that she works with such great and caring people.
“We all have each other’s backs,” Shaw said. “We listen to each other. Say I’ve taken a really bad call, my other teammates will jump in, and whoever and whatever, it gets done.”
The biggest self-reward of her job comes simply when she can help someone.
“Some people write to Mandy or to Sheriff (Bill) Massee and say this person on this date was there for me at my time of need and that means the world to me,” Shaw said. “Just that little note of appreciation means so much to us all.”