Carson City dispatchers recognized during National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week
Inside the operation center
There are 19 total dispatchers on staff for Carson City and two part-time warrant specialists. The dispatchers work in two 12-hour shifts three to four days a week. The dispatch center receives thousands of calls a month and it is their job to determine which cases needs immediate assistance or if it can wait for available law enforcement.
“We do everything except Nevada Highway Patrol and Capitol Police,” said communications manager Karin Mracek.
Dispatch got their own center in 2001, after the Sheriff’s Office transferred to their current building. Mracek said that previously, the dispatch center was in a garage behind the old Sheriff’s Office before it was decided that they needed their own compound and space.
“Every day is something different,” Mracek said. “That is what makes this job so addicting.”
Being a dispatcher is an extremely difficult job, and Carson City has a turn-around rate of nearly 17 percent, close to the national average.
“I do wish it was lower, but that is the way it is,” Mracek said. “We give them every opportunity to succeed, but it is not the job for everyone.”
The compensation for such a high turn around rate is that when dispatchers stay, they are in it for the long haul. Mracek said their average stay rate is 9.13 years for a dispatcher, with some men and women staying with Carson for decades.
“Getting through training is hard, but once you get past a year or two, they are here for the long run,” Mracek said. “You get addicted to the job and you want to help people and that is what you get to do.”
To become a dispatcher, the men and women have to go through 6 to 12 months of training where they learn how to take calls. The training is a four stage program with most of it being on the job training as well as some class time and off site with medical training.
“We do it in phases because the training can be so overwhelming and we want to make sure they meet the standards necessary,” Mracek said.
The life of a dispatcher is no easy task.
They are the ones behind the scenes who keep law enforcement, fire and medical personnel running smoothly. From receiving 911 calls to dispatching fire and police, they’re the nucleus of the city.
To honor these men and women, April 11-15 was National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week. Every year, Carson City communications manager Karin Mracek spends hundreds of dollars to decorate the dispatch office for the week. This year, the dispatchers got lucky, surrounded by a casino theme, complete with giant poker chips and play money.
“I think the decorations helped celebrate the occasion,” said dispatcher Maricela Ceballos. “It was great and it made sense living in Nevada after all.”
While rarely recognized, dispatchers are one of the most important factors that help keep Carson City safe. Though it’s a difficult job, the excitement and the camaraderie of the department is what keeps Ceballos coming back to work every day.
Ceballos had dedicated nearly 12 years of her life to Carson dispatch, starting when she was just 18.
“It is a lot of fun, it’s exciting, stressful and exhilarating sometimes, but no matter what call, it is always rewarding,” Ceballos said. “It is always great to be helpful to the community.”
For Ceballos, the fast pace, unexpectedness of the job is what makes it great.
“There is no typical day, even if we have the same type of call, every personal situation is different for the people we help,” Ceballos said.
Four cubicles housing dispatchers are stationed at four monitors for tracking 9-1-1 calls, business calls, mapping systems, radio channels, a CAD system to run arrests, warrants and vehicle information, a JClient system that’s a national data base of information, and a messaging system to talk with officers, and a police/fire radio to communicate with the public safety officials.
Each monitor has multiple programs running at once, but the dispatchers are able to navigate the systems with ease as they multi-task to receive and distribute the necessary information to law enforcement and fire.
On this day, Ceballos was working the fire and medic channels, so she was working on dispatching the fire station and EMTs mostly to medical calls. The type of calls dispatch sees varies based on a number of factors, including what station the dispatcher is managing and what time of day they work. For instance, during the day, Ceballos explained she sees more non-urgent calls like reports and court orders, while at night it’s more in progress calls such as batteries, fights or domestic situations.
But, the kind of caller dispatchers receive also can make their job more difficult. If callers are hysterical or take their time telling information, it can be challenging to dispatch the call because they aren’t getting the vital information to give to the first responders.
“It is one of those multitasking skills that are vital and shine through during these situations,” Ceballos said. “We are a team and help each other out, but we get so busy at times that we have to handle everything on our own from start to finish and we have to act and do our best to help.”
For the past five years, Ceballos worked the 12-hour night shift, but recently has gone back to the day shift. By switching shifts, she not only experiences a difference in what type of calls she answers, but it also allows her to be able to spend time with both her public safety family and her real family.
“I like each shift for different reasons and every day and night is different,” Ceballos said. “I like the speed and consistency of day shift and I enjoy getting off at 7 p.m., where I can get off and still enjoy part of the day instead of just going right to bed.”
“It feels good to be busy and day shift definitely keeps you away and keeps you going, plus it gives me that time to spend with my family,” Ceballos said. “I love my family here, but night shift was hard because I was missing out on a lot with my real family.”
It was actually Ceballos’s sister Norma who first brought the dispatch position to her attention.
“I didn’t realize what I was getting into,” Ceballos laughed. “My sister worked for the city and told me about the job. I was fresh out of high school and I applied, but I didn’t really comprehend what the job was.”
Ceballos said her perception of the job was completely opposite of what it actually entailed.
“I thought it was just answering phones and it was definitely not just that,” Ceballos said. “It was so much more than that, but I enjoy it so much and it’s a good thing that I just decided to apply on a whim.”
With Ceballos working day shift, the calls are more consistent throughout the day, and the room is filled with sounds of keyboards clicking and phones ringing. However, it doesn’t mean the four women working that day didn’t get the chance to laugh and socialize with each other in between calls.
“That is the fun of coming to work, whether it is catching up with my coworkers or working with them to get a call settled,” Ceballos said. “We do joke around and have fun, but as soon as a 911 hits, everyone knows that their role is in the situation and when it is high priority, it is always game face on.
And just like that, the war paint came on and the game faces came out. The dispatch center was flooded by calls from the community about a brush fire that had started near Arrowhead Drive and Carson Street. Sirens echoed through the building, the signal that a 911 call was coming in, as dozens of calls came in about the fire.
It was the dispatchers’ job to not only answer each call, but to see if anyone could add new information such as the size of the fire and if they knew what started it. It was Ceballos’ job to also dispatch the firefighters while all four women answered and cycled through each call as quickly as possible.
“It really is game face on, you ask the questions and get the answers,” Ceballos said. “And that is why it is so important to train well because you always revert back to your initial training. It is all business and we all rely on each other because everyone has an important role to succeed in what we are handling.”
While Ceballos enjoys the job, it isn’t without its difficulties. Because their job is to interact with people during negative situations, they deal with a multitude of calls that can take a toll on a person.
“After a while you just learn to not take things personally,” Ceballos said. “You want to be serious and do your best but you also have to know that there are things you can’t always control.”
“I think you really just have to understand that there are calls that you think about but you have to be proud of the work that you did,” Ceballos said. “You pick up your phone and next time do that call better if you aren’t satisfied with what you do.”
To show their appreciation for their dispatchers, the Sheriff’s Office, Fire Department and Alternative Sentencing all dropped off sweets and flowers during the week for the men and women. The detective unit stopped by with cookies and cakes.
“We wanted to show our appreciation because dispatch always takes care of us,” said Detective Sam Hatley. “They do a lot of research for me … they are sometimes a really good place for me to start for information on cases because they are the first ones notified by the crimes. We really appreciate what they do for us everyday.”
“We are a family and we deal with so much under not the best circumstances so to have them stop by and say thank you, it is the best thing,” Ceballos said. “It is great to show our appreciation to each other because we really are one big family.”
For Ceballos, 12 years in dispatch is nothing, and anticipates staying for a long time.
“You don’t know if it is going to be busy any given day,” Ceballos said. “Pursuits, fires, foot pursuits, the appeal to come to work is that every day is different and it is something to look forward to. It is the unknown of what the day brings, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”