When you have an emergency you dial 911 and a calm, collected voice takes over to help you through any type of situation.
April 9-15 is National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week and a time to honor those who help others during a crisis.
“One of the things I’ve learned since I took over supervising dispatch in October was really how hard and difficult being a dispatcher, telecommunicator is. It’s a very stressful job and it takes some special men and women to really be able to do that day in and day out,” said Stephenville Police Administrative/Support Services Lt. James Gresham. “You talk to people directly when a crisis is going on. I mean you’re hearing often times the screaming, the yelling, the hitting, the fighting and the panic. So we’ve really grown to appreciate the work they do and how important it is.”
The Stephenville Police Department currently has 12 dispatchers, one of whom is the supervisor.
Kevin Elkins has been a dispatcher at the SPD for 17 years.
“As a kid I always loved cop shows and really thought about being a police officer at one point, physically I wasn’t really built to do that, so this was about the closest thing I could get to that and I really enjoy it,” Elkins said.
Elkins said the hardest part of his job is dealing with calls from children in tough situations.
“Like with wrecks or mom and dad fighting or something, that’s probably the hardest part,” he said. “Trying to keep them calm - it’s rough trying to keep it away from the home life, but my wife is really good about letting me vent.”
Julia Travis has been with the SPD for six years, but has been in this line of work for 33 years total.
Travis said she enjoys the work because “it’s ever changing, a new day every day.”
On a daily basis Travis said they get between 12-22 emergency calls on average, but that doesn’t include calls for other services.
Hayley Ashley, previously one of the SPD animal services officers, joined the dispatch team in January.
“I like talking to people and I get a little more interaction now than I did previously. A lot more happens at a quicker pace,” Ashley said. “The transition was easy because I already knew the computer system. It was just learning what questions to ask when people call about certain things.”
Ashley is still in training and will be finished about mid-May.
This past weekend Ashley began taking 911 calls and said the hard calls for her are the urgent emergencies and a panicked caller.
Dispatchers work 12-hour shifts with two days on, two days off and they get a three-day weekend every other weekend.
The Erath County Sheriff’s Office currently has 10 dispatchers and a supervisor.
“They’re it. We can’t do our job without them and not only do they have to dispatch us to the calls,they have to talk to the complainants until we get there,” said Sheriff Matt Coates. “It’s a very stressful job and I think they all do such a great job.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed an awareness proclamation for Public Safety Telecommunicators Week.
“The men and women serving as public safety telecommunicators — 911 operators, dispatchers and other communications specialists — area dedicated to saving lives,” states the proclamation. “These professionals, the ‘unseen first responders,’ provide critical assistance to Texans in times of great need, and their specialized skills and calm presence are invaluable to the Lone Star State.”
A recent article from APCO International’s (Leaders in Public Safety Communications) website stated a White House petition on changing the occupation name for Public Safety Telecommunicators has been launched. Public Safety Telecommunicators would then be classified as Protective Service Occupants.
To sign the petition visit petitions.whitehouse.gov.