"Who is that talking?" A Coffeen pre-K student asked on Friday morning while on a tour of The Journal-News office and press room.
The talking was coming from the scanner that sits in the middle of the newsroom, providing the background sound to every hour of every day at The Journal-News. Most of the voices on the scanner belong to telecommunicators–the men and women who respond to emergency calls for assistance, dispatch emergency professionals and equipment, and render life-saving, pre-arrival instructions to callers.
And this is their week.
April 14-20 is National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, seven days on the calendar to pause and give thanks for those who are on the other end of the phone when we need them most.
A part of Montgomery County's emergency response for nearly three decades, the emergency number 9-1-1 is now too frequently taken for granted. Those who have had to use it count on a professional, calm and capable telecommunicator answering 9-1-1 calls, dispatching the needed first responders, and offering assistance until those first responders arrive. They are not the only telecommunicators on the job. You will also find quality individuals doing their job at Litchfield City Hall and the Hillsboro Fire Department
Not only are telecommunicators important to the public, they are the lifeline of first responders who do their jobs on the street. About 25 years ago, there used to be a sign above the dispatcher's desk at the Litchfield Police Department that read, "You may know where you are at all times, and God may know where you are at all times, but if your dispatcher doesn't know where you are at all times, you and God had better be on good terms."
Tongue-in-cheek, yes, but absolutely true in the effort to keep first responders safe. When first responders are on the scene, one can hear a telecommunicator ask "status?" if communication with dispatch has been silent for too many minutes.
On Aug. 2, 2012, Montgomery County suffered a mass casualty incident when a Megabus collided with a bridge support on Interstate 55, killing one person and injuring 32. Local telecommunicators went from zero-to-60 in one second, not only responding to the calls that came in to 9-1-1, but then also providing the communication link for scores of law enforcement, fire departments, dozens and dozens of ambulances, and at least four medical helicopters. They did such an outstanding job, Montgomery County telecommunicators earned an award and statewide attention.
Like all first responders, telecommunicators do their jobs humbly and without seeking praise. Since they do not do their jobs on the street, they are difficult to thank–and whatever you do, don't call 9-1-1 just to say thank you; leave that line open for the emergency calls. But if you know a dispatcher, this would be a good week to let them know how much you appreciate his or her work. And if you don't know a telecommunicator, it would be a good week for a quiet prayer of gratitude.