911 dispatchers honored

ALPENA — Have you hugged your 911 dispatcher today?

The second full week of April each year is designated as National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, a nationwide reminder to show appreciation for the men and women who work behind the scenes to connect those who provide help with those who need it.

In Michigan, approximately 2,000 telecommunicators — known to most of us as 911 dispatchers — answer nearly 6.5 million calls to 911 a year, acting as the voice of safety and daily saving lives and property through their prompt response and calm actions.

Telecommunicators must go through 80 hours of basic and advanced dispatched training to do their job, according to Michigan.gov.

In Alpena County, where 8,640 calls and texts were placed to 911 in 2018, two dispatchers are available at all times, according to Burt Francisco, emergency services coordinator for the county.

The idea for the week’s observation was sparked when a sheriff in California took his staff out for lunch in recognition of administrative assistants day and forwarded all his office’s calls to dispatchers, making their call volume jump and resulting in a scolding from a longtime dispatcher, Patricia Anderson. To show his gratitude — and to make amends — the sheriff presented Anderson and her coworkers with a cake decorated with the words, “Happy Dispatcher Week,” according to the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials, sponsor of the annual observation.

The law enforcement and safety agencies who respond to calls for help from area citizens rely on quick and accurate work on the part of dispatchers.

“From a law enforcement perspective, the critical role of the 911 dispatcher cannot be overstated,” Alpena Police Chief Joel Jett said. “Not only does the officer rely on dispatch to obtain accurate and complete information from the caller, but the dispatcher is also the lifeline for the officer after he/she arrives at the scene.”

If an officer needs additional assistance, Jett said, dispatch can send those resources to ensure that law enforcement stays safe and residents receive the help they need.

Dispatchers field calls of all kinds all hours of the day and night, sending the information to police, fire, emergency medical services, or other first-responders. Alpena Fire Department chief Bill Forbush points to the people who take in 911 cass as a critical part of the entire public safety community.

“We’ve got a really high-tech, very efficient dispatch center for a community our size,” Forbush said, noting that the system is under exceptional leadership and calling Francisco “top-notch, and we’re very fortunate to have him here.”