Dispatchers in Carson City heart of safety network
The life of a dispatcher is no easy feat with work days filled with stress, chaos and nonstop calls and sometimes the only reward is knowing you helped someone on the other end of the phone.
But, to make sure they’re given a proper thank you, April 11-15 is National Public Safety Telecommunications Appreciation Week, to remind all of the men and women on the other end of the 911 calls they’re a vital part of the law enforcement process.
Carson City actually has two dispatch centers: the Carson City Sheriff’s Dispatch Center and the Department of Public Safety Dispatch Center. While the two usually run different agencies, their job is the same.
And each agency celebrated Dispatcher Week in their own way, from gifts of personalized key chains and tumbler cups to cupcakes and flowers.
For supervisor Tiffany Alexander, working in dispatch fulfills her desire to help the community around her.
Alexander moved to Carson City only four months ago to be the new dispatch supervisor for DPS northern command. Before that, she was a dispatcher for six years in Las Vegas for the southern command.
“I love the challenge this job presents,” Alexander said. “It keeps me busy and it is rewarding.”
The Department of Public Safety dispatches more than a dozen different agencies from Nevada Highway to Patrol to Parole and Probation and from the fire marshals to the Attorney General’s Office.
“We take all manner of calls,” Alexander said.
The process of becoming a dispatcher is difficult, with DPS’s dispatcher taking up to about 6 months to complete training.
The trainees learn the law enforcement lingo — the 10 codes and P numbers — and then they sit with a seasoned dispatcher to learn the ropes on how to use the phones, how to take radio traffic and more.
To work as a dispatcher takes a specific kind of person.
“It is a hard job,” Alexander said. “It is hard to keep up with it and not everyone is made for this job because it is so detail oriented and there is so much multitasking, but it is such an awesome job.”
Alexander said sometimes the pressure is too much, the average lifespan of a dispatcher is five years on the job.
“Even if you’re qualified, sometimes you can’t do it inside you and it’s not right for you, you can’t handle the job because it is a very real thing to have people’s lives in your hands,” Alexander said. “So even if they can do the job the stress is a breaker.”
And some people like Alexander thrive on the stress.
“I was actually still dispatching when I was pregnant and it was great,” Alexander said. “Somehow I kept getting lots of Code Red calls, like one or two a day, and I loved it.”
And for her, the reward for all that stress is worthwhile.
“This job is hard and for us to maintain a level of professionalism and extreme helpfulness is amazing, I take pride in that,” said Alexander. “And all of my dispatchers provide that same level of service.”
Some of her favorite moments on the job came from helping stranded motorists.
Alexander recalled one incident where a 20-something was stranded on one of Vegas’s busiest freeway ramps and troopers were unable to locate the vehicle. His vehicle was lower than the median and was virtually invisible.
“I actually was able to use a billboard that he could see and use our cameras to see just the very top of his car,” Alexander said.
She said troopers were able to find him because of her skills and the motorists and his parents were extremely grateful for her.
“It was a prideful moment for me, I so much love helping people,” Alexander said. “I love helping the public or our troopers or my dispatchers and in this setting I am always doing that.”
Alexander has always been interested in helping others; she enlisted in the Army for three years and was deployed overseas, worked in the welfare department in Southern Nevada and then with mental health before applying for the job as a dispatcher.
“Before I was helping people get quality mental health care and this job was similar with helping people so it was a natural move,” Alexander said. “I am happy to switch into this career, I wouldn’t change it for anything. This has always been my calling, I honestly believe this is where I was meant to be.”
Silver streamers and black and gold balloons hang from the ceiling at the Carson City Dispatch Center in celebration of the week.
Every year, dispatch manager Karin Mracek picks a decoration theme for the center and transforms the office into it. This year’s theme is Roaring 20s, with black, gold and silver everywhere, as a way to celebrate all the dispatchers do.
“I think it is nice because a majority of our calls are for when someone needs help or they aren’t calling for something positive so we aren’t really used to getting a thank you,” said dispatch supervisor Marlon Moncada. “It doesn’t bother us, we are just doing our jobs. Because we understand that they have an emergency and need help and we aren’t doing this to seek a reward so we don’t need to hear that thanks all the time.”
And that’s why this week means so much to the dispatchers, and the deputies work to make it special by bringing in treats and goodies throughout the week to show their appreciation.
“A lot of people say that we don’t hear (thank you) enough so that is really nice,” Moncada 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.
One factor that keeps Carson dispatch working smoothly is the teamwork.
“It is about being part of a good team, and knowing each other’s strengths,” Moncada said. “We still ask each other questions and it isn’t because we question our own judgement, but we are there to help each other out. No one who is fully trained is going to cover the microphone (on a call) and say ‘what do I do?’ They are going to do it and then later we can talk about it.”
Though the team has his back, it’s just as vital for Moncada and the other dispatchers to hold their own.
“It is nice to have your partners around but there is a time and a place because sometimes you have to make decisions fast and you don’t get to ask questions about it,” Moncada said.
And after 15 years in the center, Moncada still loves it every day.
“I enjoy what I do, it is something different every day,” Moncada said. “One day it is slow and the next there is nonstop traffic and calls. It is challenging but also good, it keeps you thinking through lots of situations because situations may be similar but they are never the same and never handled the same way.”
In just one hour at the dispatch center on Friday afternoon, the three dispatchers dealt with almost every scenario in the book from missing persons to fuel spills to traffic stops to strokes.
“You just have to do what you can, there is so much liability with our job so you have to just do your job and do it well,” Moncada said. “It is about getting someone there as quickly as possible, we are there to shave seconds off responses.
“It is fun, but not in a fun way because if you are busy it isn’t good because there are lots of activities going on. It is the excitement of being busy and getting the units out and getting them going.”
Moncada has dedicated his life to this job since he was 18 years old, applying after high school to follow in his family’s law enforcement footsteps.
“My uncle worked as a deputy here, my brother was in the police academy and Western Nevada College had a dispatch academy to go to learn the basics so I decided to take it,” Moncada said. “At the time it was the only thing I was old enough to do, and I got hired the day before my 19th birthday. I came in young and it was definitely a big change, with lots of responsibility because it is more liability than you know.”
When he first started, Moncada hoped it was a stepping stone into law enforcement until he could apply to be a deputy when he turned 21, but he was promoted to supervisor three years in and decided to stay. Now, he says Carson is where he plans on retiring in another 15 years.
“It has been a good career,” Moncada said. “I like being able to send people to help. And then you start thinking about it and it is like where has the time gone?”