Photos and Story Compiled by the Fort Greely Public Affairs Office
The week of April 10-16, 2016 honors the thousands of men and women who respond to emergency calls, dispatch emergency professionals and equipment, and render life-saving assistance to the world’s citizens – and no doubt you, a family member or a neighbor has had to reach out to 911 in a crisis situation.
Sponsored by the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International and celebrated annually. National Telecommunicators Week (NTW) brings celebration, honor, and publicity
focused on the otherwise unsung hero on the other end of the line. It’s a great opportunity to reflect on the important role of the 911 dispatcher as the FIRST, first responder.
NTW was first conceived by Patricia Anderson of the Contra Costa County (Calif.) Sheriff’s Office in
1981 and was observed only at that agency for three years. Members of the Virginia and North Carolina chapters of APCO became involved in the mid-1980s. By the early 1990s, the national APCO organization convinced Congress of the need for a formal proclamation. Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) introduced what became H.J. Res. 284 to create “National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week.” According to Congressional procedure, it was introduced twice more in 1993 and 1994, and then became permanent, without the need for yearly introduction.
APCO International was founded in 1935 and according to Wikipedia “is the world’s oldest and largest organization of public safety communications professionals and supports the largest U.S. membership base of any public safety association.” It serves the needs of public safety communications practitioners worldwide – and the welfare of the general public as a whole – by providing complete expertise, professional development, technical assistance, advocacy and outreach.
April also serves as 911 education month, which focuses on teaching the proper use of 911 for aid in emergency situations. While we are all entertained by laughable pranks to 911 or the inadvertent calls by an inebriated individual ordering a pizza – 100 percent of the time dispatchers are ready to respond in those terrifying moments when a life is in danger of being lost or injured.
Locally, Fort Greely dispatcher Tisha Kennell supervises a team of telecommunications professionals and says the primary purpose of the dispatcher position is to serve as an Emergency Dispatcher in charge of coordinating the dispatch of fire, police, and EMS vehicles, personnel and equipment in response to alarms, requests for assistance or alerts within the installation area of operation and with neighboring Federal, State, or local jurisdictions.
Like many jobs in the emergency services field, the time ebbs and flows and according to Jerry Zachgo a three year veteran in dispatch “there are highs and lows, like feast or famine when it comes to emergency calls.”
While there can be long periods of inactivity, Ms. Kennell keeps her dispatchers busy with training requirements and continual exercises in Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) protocols.
“I have an amazing team and at Fort Greely that is made up of folks who just love to help folks”. But it takes more than just having a big heart to work in this kind of environment. Duties for this job include:
-Instructing callers in emergency first aid techniques (e.g. Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation [CPR], the Heimlich maneuver, opening an airway, controlling breathing, controlling bleeding, and even emergency childbirth).
-Receiving emergency and non-emergency requests by telephone, mobile radio, mobile data computers or automatic alarms.
-Making immediate decisions during emergency situations regarding initial deployment of personnel and/or equipment, and deployment location.
-And last but not least is coordinating mutual aid support based on initial call and evaluation of level of service to be rendered. Kennel says that her dispatchers “spend a good portion of their shift monitoring happenings in the off base community and upwards of 95 percent of our calls can be providing mutual aid in the area around Delta Junction.” According to James Degnan the Fort Greely Fire Chief, “We’ve responded twice in the last 10 days to the Summit Lake area to support Alaska State Troopers in rescue and recovery efforts.”
Deputy Fire Chief Dan Clark has nothing but praise for the unsung heroes in dispatch. According to Clark “The day to day routine is coordinating hazardous operations (HAZOPS) with various contractors on Greely. Those operations are generally work sites where a hot work permit (welding, pipefitting, etc.) is being performed or a confined work space is being occupied. But when the call comes in that somebody’s house is on fire – they are ready!”
The rewards are many and this week is as good as any to recognize their dedication to being a lifeline. No matter the emergency or the time of day “our dispatchers are trained and ready to serve”.