Emergency dispatchers were celebrated throughout Grayson County this week in observance of National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, which concludes Friday.
Dispatchers with the Sherman Police Department, Denison Police Department and Grayson County Sheriff’s Office said they received many messages of thanks throughout the week.
“We’ve had people call with well wishes and we’ve had people bring gifts,” Denison Police Senior Public Safety Telecommunicator Shanna Kenney said, “Everybody has been very nice.”
According to the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials, the week-long event was started in 1981 by the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office in California. In 2017, the most recent year for which data is available, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that there were more than 95,000 emergency dispatchers working across the U.S. and more than 7,000 working in Texas. In an online occupation profile, the BLS described the work of emergency dispatchers as difficult and demanding.
“Dispatchers must be available around the clock, so they often have to work evenings, weekends and holidays,” the BLS profile read. “Overtime and long shifts — sometimes 12 hours — are common. The pressure to respond quickly and calmly in alarming situations can be stressful.”
Sherman Police Emergency Dispatch Communications Officer Sara Patterson said she and other department dispatchers have many responsibilities on top of answering emergency and non-emergency calls. In addition to fielding calls and coordinating services, Patterson said dispatchers must also be able to search for criminal records, run vehicle checks and complete regular trainings and certifications.
Patterson said in recent years Sherman dispatchers and others have greatly expanded the scope of their response to medical emergency calls and can provide life-saving information as patients wait for paramedics to arrive.
“We now have emergency medical dispatching where we can give CPR instructions, we can help deliver babies, we can help stop major bleeding,” Patterson said. “It’s pretty incredible.”
GCSO 911 Communication Supervisor Jami Brown said dispatchers rarely learn the final outcome of a call and the uncertainty can weigh heavily on them. Brown said dispatchers must also be prepared to work through tragedies that hit close to home — a reality she faced in April 2013 when Deputy Chad Key was struck and killed by a drunk driver.
“That was very hard because we had to stay calm for the officers that were out there,” Brown said. “We had to stay calm for the people that were calling in for information. We did all we could, but we couldn’t be there.”
Because dispatchers work largely behind the scenes, Brown said they aren’t always seen as first responders in the same way police officers, firefighters and paramedics are. But Brown said dispatchers are just as much a part of the family and it was good to see their efforts celebrated with a week dedicated to their profession.
“We don’t do it for the praise, but it certainly is nice to hear,” Brown said.