Answering the call: Carson City’s dispatchers are unsung heroes
Special to the Nevada Appeal:
The Department of Public Safety is celebrating National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week by honoring their dispatchers who work with first responders.
Each year, the second week of April is dedicated to honor the men and women who respond to emergency calls, dispatch emergency officials and equipment, and render lifesaving assistance. The DPS would like to raise awareness and recognize the Nevada Public Safety Telecommunicators (dispatchers) that provide information and assistance to first responders and to the citizens of Nevada.
“Our dispatchers are on the front lines of public safety serving as the true first responders and their support spreads out over varied shifts, 12-hour days, weekends and holidays in a 24/7, 365 days a year,” said DPS Communication Center Manager Denise Stewart. “They are responsible for answering emergency and non-emergency calls for all levels of assistance from the public and law enforcement agencies. They determine the nature of the call, location, parties involved and other agencies that need to be notified.”
The DPS dispatchers are responsible for receiving and transmitting non-emergency and emergency radio traffic to field officers, accountable for the statuses of officers from DPS, the Attorney General, Nevada Transportation Authority and Youth Parole. They also manage all Amber Alerts, Silver Alerts and the point of contact for the Division of Emergency Management and State Fire Marshal Division.
“Public safety dispatchers are the lifeblood of the first-responder community, making sure critical services are provided to citizens in need,” said General Services Director Julie Butler. “The department is extremely proud of its public safety dispatchers and the dedication they have to this difficult, but rewarding career field.”
The state of Nevada has been recognizing Public Safety Telecommunicators for their service since the early 1990s.
Being a dispatcher is more than just sitting at a desk, answering phone calls all day. The men and women with Carson City Dispatch work hard as the first line of response to any emergency that occurs within the city.
To honor these individuals, the city participates in National Telecommunicators Week from April 9 to April 15. This week, the people that work with the dispatchers show their appreciation for the hard work they do and the center is decorated in a theme for the week.
Carson City has 19 dispatchers — six of whom are supervisors — and three new trainees, who work around the clock connecting the community with fire, police, EMS and a host of other government entities. Last year, the dispatchers answered almost 34,000 911 calls and almost 40,000 calls for service between the Sheriff’s Office, Fire Department, medical and After Hours City Government.
“I am proud of the work they do,” said Karin Mracek, communications manager for Carson City. “It is a great place to work, a great city and a great department.”
But becoming a dispatcher is no easy feat. New employees have to go through a training program that lasts nine to 12 months before they’re able to work on their own.
“It is a long process, but it has to be done right,” said supervisor Kim Tripp.
“There is so much to learn, it is like drinking from a fire hose,” added senior dispatcher Liz Hertz. “But it gives them a solid foundation and good tools in the toolbox to deal with certain things and they can use those tools to make decisions even if they haven’t dealt with it before.”
Tripp, along with several other supervisors are training three new dispatchers. Tripp has been working with Nicole Cox, one of the trainees, since January.
Cox is the farthest along in the training program, with six months under her belt. However, unlike most new dispatchers, Cox had prior experience working in an all-medical dispatch center for two years.
“I came from another dispatch agency that didn’t have the fire or police side so it is nice that I am getting to broaden my horizons,” Cox said. “It is different though because it is very diverse (with calls) instead of just medical. There are a lot more aspects to adding police and fire.”
The training program has four phases: call taking to develop the skill to talk with the community, handle calls for service and begin developing multitasking skills needed to listen to multiple radios at once and prioritize calls; then they move onto the secondary channel; then the Sheriff’s Office primary radio; and lastly the Fire Department primary radio, however the last two phases can be interchangeable.
“Everything comes through us, we are like a filter,” Cox said.
The program is designed to make sure the trainers are able to make quick and confident decisions on a call with the goal to make sure the dispatchers are relaying the correct information to keep the first responders safe.
“We need to ensure that (our trainees) have a thorough understanding of what questions need to be asked (to the reporting party),” Tripp said. “Depending on the call, you will have different questions for instance it is different asking with a petit larceny than a subject with a weapon. So it is important she knows what to ask and what information the deputy needs to know to give to keep them as safe as possible.”
For Cox, though the program can have some difficult days, she enjoys the diversity and that comes with the job.
“Every phone call is different, one can be a domestic battery and the next could be a call for Public Works, then a (vehicle identification number) check,” Cox said. “The diversity is nice and it’s a nice change because (the agency I worked at) before every time a call came in it was a medical so it really never changed much.”
“That is what’s appealing about this job, I can walk in and it is always something different,” Tripp added. “The adrenaline changes, (it) is stimulating and it always keeps me thinking. I don’t think I could go back to an office job after this.”
The learning part of the job also heavily appeals to Cox.
“I really like to learn new things and because I was stuck on just medical before, I wanted more and I wanted to learn more,” Cox said. “I still ask plenty of questions and I still have new learning opportunities daily.”
One important lesson the trainees will have to learn over the years is how to cope with the difficult parts of their job.
“Some situations will impact (our new dispatchers) more with emotions or how they feel about a call and they tend to be really hard on themselves when they do something not quite right,” Tripp said. “But it is training and it is a learning experience for them. A more seasoned dispatcher is able to take the criticisms better and move on with their day.”
“Calls impact everyone differently but when you hear those same calls over and over again, you have to build that callus otherwise you can’t do this job. So your coping skills get adjusted and you get better at it.”
For Cox, the end is in sight. She will move onto her last phase of training in two weeks, but for now, she’s working on the secondary channel with Tripp’s supervision. This is also where Tripp has allowed her to take more responsibility and work the channel on her own to make decisions and correct her mistakes when she makes them.
“It is important for her to be able to catch these mistakes and fix them so she can make the best decisions,” Tripp said. “I will go and correct it if something is wrong but I want her to build her confidence in training so she knows what needs to be improved on.”
Though, not every day is riddled with Code-3 emergencies and excitement, there’s plenty that keeps the dispatchers occupied during their 12-hour shifts.
“I love that there are so many aspects of the job,” Cox said. “It has been nice, there have been challenging days of course but I love this, it is my niche.”