Appreciating dispatchers for being first link in emergency response chain

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Rory Sherwood, left, and Alysse Susan chat between emergency calls while at work at the Alpena County 911 operations center on Thursday. Sherwood and Susan have been dispatchers for 13 years and have helped many people during emergencies. This week is National Dispatcher Appreciation Week.

ALPENA — Behind every effective public safety system sits a dedicated, well-trained, and compassionate team of dispatchers who guide first responders to emergencies while helping the person on the other end of the phone.

Alpena County 911 Director Kim Elkie described dispatchers as a “voice in the dark” for the people who call during emergencies who are often in distress, scared, in pain, or confused.

This week is National Dispatcher Appreciation Week where the public gives a tip of the cap to those who work in 911 centers and other types of dispatch centers around the country.

Dispatchers are the conduit between a person in need of help and first responders. Their job goes well beyond just calling out police and fire services, but also to learn more about the emergency and forward the information to responders, give guidance to the caller if needed, while keeping them as calm as possible.

Alysse Susan has worked for 911 in Alpena County for 13 years and has taken calls for large and small emergencies. She said for each of them, she handles them with the same professionalism and care.

Susan said when she first started, some of the more serious calls took a toll on her emotionally, but over time, and with more experience, she is now able to deal with the emotions that go with the job.

“I started when I was 21 and you just don’t have a lot of life experience at that age and each emergency I felt in my body and I didn’t know how to calm myself,” she said. “As I’ve gotten older, I deal with the calls so much differently. I’m not saying it doesn’t affect me, but I am now able to keep my calm because I understand if I’m not calm, I can’t make the caller calm down.”

While continually monitoring the phones and keeping a watchful eye on the maps and other local data on computer monitors, there is little time for the dispatchers to stray far from their desks. The close proximity of the dispatchers and their supervisors has created a family-like environment at central dispatch. Susan said each dispatcher is there for one another, celebrates successes, and offers support during hard times.

Alpena County Dispatcher Rory Sherwood, who has also worked for 911 for 13 years said he loves his job because it is different every day and it is a way to help people. He said over the years, he has obtained much knowledge he can apply during many different life-saving situations.

“We’re junior paramedics, junior firemen, junior police officers, and junior social workers,” Sherwood said. “I love my job, especially being able to use my skills to help kids. Children are always the most vulnerable and anytime we have something where we can help kids and there is a favorable outcome, it feels good.”

Elkie said 911 dispatchers are the first link in a chain of emergency response services. She said they are a voice in the dark for people who are suffering trauma and need to be handled with kid gloves. Elkie said if a dispatcher does not communicate with a caller well or drops the ball in the way the job is done, it compromises the entire emergency response.

“If that first link breaks, everything else behind it could fall,” she said. “They are the hub of operations and when there is a major emergency, their responsibility only amps up.”

Alpena Fire Chief Rob Edmonds said police and firefighters depend greatly on the dispatchers to be able to address emergencies. He credits the job they do in making police, fire, and emergency medical services operations flow as smoothly as they do in Alpena County.

“They truly are the first responders to police, fire, and EMS requests for assistance,” Edmonds said. “Without their expertise in call intake, dispatching responders, and often giving online directions, the effectiveness and efficiency of our area responders would not be as well done as they are.”

Alpena Police Chief Eric Hamp agreed with Edmonds. He said dispatchers often don’t get the credit they deserve because they aren’t as visible as police officers and firefighters. But, he said, that should not diminish the role they play in serving the community.

“Dispatchers are the unsung heroes of emergency services,” Hamp said. “They are often the first contact for anyone seeking emergency services. Unlike police, fire, and EMS, dispatchers serve their role out of the public eye. They are the calm voice in what are often very difficult situations. They provide a vital link to all responding agencies by producing necessary communications and ensuring their safety. Dispatchers are a vital part of law enforcement and we appreciate their daily service.”


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