When a fire breaks out, everybody sees the firefighters rushing to the scene. When an accident happens, witnesses watch as state troopers and EMS arrive to help victims. When a crime happens, police officers and deputies are at the forefront. No one ever sees the ones behind the scenes — the dispatchers.
The radio operators, or dispatchers, are the first to interact with a person calling for help. They gather information, reassure and calm the person calling while at the same time sending the appropriate responders to the scene.
This week, April 8–14, public safety dispatchers are recognized across the nation during National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week. Locally, the ones answering panic calls and sending rescue are being honored and appreciated in a variety of ways.
Bulloch County Public Safety Director Kelly Barnard said in years past, meals were provide for dispatchers, but this year, the gift was something more tangible. Each of the 12 full-time and two part-time operators received a 911 bag, headset bag and keychain.
Air Evac also gifted the radio operators with T-shirts and goody bags, she said. Each shift also had pizza for lunch.
“They do a great job,” Barnard said. “They are first to have contact with citizens during an emergency.”
Dispatchers can save lives, too.
“Sometimes the things they do on the front end make all the difference in the world,” she said.
Bulloch County 911 operators, who handle calls from Bulloch, Evans and Candler counties, handle 88,000 calls a year and have even directed people to perform CPR and deliver babies over the phone.
Other agencies also recognized dispatchers this week with Facebook posts and other gestures. Bulloch County sheriff’s Lt. Greg Collins, who supervises dispatch, said in his 20-plus years as a patrol officer, radio operators “were my lifeline.”
He gave his four full-time dispatchers gift cards, “out of my own pocket, not at taxpayers’ expense,” he said, as a way of thanking them for what they do. The four full-time operators are assisted by cross-trained jailers and other employees who man the radio in times of heavy calls or in case a dispatcher is sick.
“It is hard to process how much they multi-task every day,” he said. “They don’t get the recognition they deserve. They are the unsung heroes behind the scene, the glue that holds it all together.”
Statesboro police dispatchers experienced a solemn week after a fellow officer was killed in a murder-suicide on Easter Sunday, but like all dispatchers, they were on task, even when the news coming in on the phone hits a personal level.
Regardless of the call or whether it involves someone close to a dispatcher, they must place public safety and the well-being of their officers on the street first.
“Our communications officers are often the first person to have contact with citizens during very stressful times and are often required to deal with very difficult situations,” said Statesboro police Deputy Chief Rob Bryan.
“Anyone who has ever called to request police assistance understands how important it is to have someone calm and professional on the other end of phone,” he said. “The communications officers of the Statesboro Police Department are hard-working and dedicated professionals that play an integral role in ensuring the safety of the public and our officers."
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.