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Dispatchers field 20,000-plus calls for help

News Photo by Julie Riddle Rory Sherwood, 911 dispatcher, examines a bank of computer monitors at the Alpena County Central Dispatch office on Sunday.

ALPENA — The phone rings 100 times a day at the Alpena County Central Dispatch office.

The dispatchers who tend the county’s emergency and non-emergency phone lines, this week celebrating National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, answer each of those calls, sending help to residents who don’t know where else to turn.

On the other end of the line, a caller may report a stranger lurking in their neighborhood. They may need help getting into a locked car. They may have seen a child fall into the river.

“Anything can happen,” said Rory Sherwood, Alpena County 911 training coordinator and dispatcher, who answers many of those calls for help. “The phone rings, and we deal with it.”

In 2021, Alpena County dispatchers handled nearly 20,000 calls for service.

That number includes only calls resulting in a dispatcher sending responders. The actual number of phone calls could be two or even three times that many, Sherwood said.

In a sampling of call statistics shared by Sherwood, which did not include data about medical responses, callers in 2021 most frequently wanted help with animal complaints. Dispatchers responded to 644 calls about stray dogs, loose horses, or similar concerns.

Dispatchers handled 636 suspicious situations, with callers asking that police check on an unfamiliar car parked on their street, an unexpected knock on the door, or “anything that feels weird and makes them think, ‘This is not right,'” Sherwood said.

Another 600-plus callers asked police to check on a relative who hadn’t answered the phone or a neighbor who hadn’t answered their door.

Dispatchers definitely noticed a hike in crashes during the 2021 closure of the Bagley Street bridge, Sherwood said. Callers reported more than 500 property damage crashes during the year, not including those that caused injury.

Dispatchers last year took reports of 244 alarms going off, 238 car/deer crashes, 207 erratic drivers, and 107 people locked out of their vehicles.

An average of once a day, someone called central dispatch when confronted with a situation they simply didn’t know how to handle, from a fallen tree branch that smashed their roof to a cat stuck in a tree, Sherwood said.

Callers sometimes want police to check on a non-urgent situation, such as a dog on the loose or children playing in the street.

Such calls are best phoned in on the non-emergency line, Sherwood said.

That line also rings into the dispatch center but with a different ring tone and using a different line that doesn’t tie up the four available 911 lines needed for more urgent calls, Sherwood said.

With calls potentially flooding in simultaneously and only two dispatchers on duty much of the time, dispatchers have to prioritize.

He may, for example, have to put a caller concerned about a neighbor’s music on hold so he can page responders as his coworker helps a panicked mother care for a choking child, Sherwood said.

While some calls are more urgent than others, every 911 call is important to the person dialing the numbers, dispatchers realize.

Alpena may be a small community, but, “a lot happens here,” and dispatchers are ready to respond, Sherwood said.

“People call and need help,” Sherwood said. “And we’re here to help them.”

To get help

For non-emergency requests for help, dial the following numbers.

Alpena County: 989-354-9111

Presque Isle County: 989-734-2156

Montmorency County: 989-785-4238, ext. 1

Alcona County: 989-724-0911

In an emergency, call 911.

Calls for help

A sampling of calls for service to the Alpena County Central Dispatch office in 2021. Calls for service typically result in a response by police, fire, or medical personnel and do not include calls that do not require a physical response.

Animal complaints: 644

Suspicious situations: 636

Welfare checks: 607

Property damage crashes: 508

Resident assists: 369

Alarm calls: 244

Car/deer crashes: 238

Erratic drivers: 207

Fire alarms/fire investigations: 193

Civil complaints: 189

Lockouts: 107

Hit and sun: 79

Grass/forest fires: 43

Total calls for service: 19,826

Source: Alpena County Central Dispatch office

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693 or jriddle@thealpenanews.com. Follow her on Twitter @jriddleX.

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