During dangerous situations, dispatchers serve as a “lifeline” to deputies and the general public, said Union County Sheriff Jimmy Edwards.
Last week was National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, which is a time to honor dispatchers for all they do to keep everyone safe.
Tiffany Erby, communications supervisor for the Union County Sheriff’s Office, said there are eight full-time dispatchers at the sheriff’s and four part-time. The dispatch center never closes, and the dispatchers work 12-hour shifts.
“I appreciate my dispatchers,” said Erby, who has been the communications supervisor for about 16 years. “They get the job done.”
Edwards said he is also thankful for the dispatchers, adding, “We couldn’t make it without them. It would be impossible.”
The sheriff and the deputies are out there in the field and “it’s our responsibility to take care of them,” Erby said. “We have to know where they are at all times. We want to get them back safely to their families.”
Hostage situations, standoffs, rollover accidents, house fires, pursuits and shooting incidents are among the many calls that dispatchers may have to respond to.
“Seconds save lives,” Erby said. “Your adrenalin is pumping … When the phone rings you have to know what to do. It’s all about timing. Dispatchers save lives.”
An overhaul to the county’s 911 system is in the process of being completed at the Union County Sheriff’s Office. It will include new furniture and computers. The sheriff’s office is also taking applications for fulltime and parttime dispatchers.
The sheriff said there is not an extremely high rate of turnover among dispatchers. But he said dispatchers do have to work nights, holidays and weekends.
“They have to be away from their families,” he said. “It’s a very demanding job.”
It’s also a very important job, but it may not be for everybody, Edwards noted. Erby agreed, saying, “it’s a calling to me.”
Dispatchers may have to deal with frantic callers and try to keep them calm so they can get the required information in order to send help. In addition to getting the location of an incident, dispatchers try to get other information from the caller as well.
“We need to know what we’re sending our officer into,” Erby said.
For instance, if it is a domestic violence call, dispatchers ask if any weapons are involved. The situation could escalate before the deputy arrives on the scene. If a suspect leaves the scene, the dispatcher will need a description of the vehicle and the direction it went. The deputies really rely on the information from the dispatchers in terms of what type of situation they are going into, the sheriff said.
Being a dispatcher requires a “heart” for the job, he added. Dispatchers must always be on their toes and want to serve, he said.
Dispatchers rarely get credit for the work they do, even though they are the first ones who get an emergency call, Edwards said. Thousands of 911 calls come to the dispatch at the Union County Sheriff’s Office annually, said Erby.
“I like helping someone who is in need,” Erby said, adding that she has some “seasoned” dispatchers.
The ability to multitask is also important for dispatchers, who could be on the phone, radio and computer at the same time, the sheriff said. It can be a stressful job, Edwards said, adding, “You never know when that phone rings what’s happening on the other end. It’s an ever-evolving scenario that’s on the other end of that phone when it rings.”