MOUNT VERNON — Six Knox County 9-1-1 dispatchers were recently promoted to the position of lead dispatcher; a move which Knox County EMA Director and 9-1-1 Coordinator Brian Hess hopes will improve accountability and communication at both the city and county dispatch centers.
The Knox County 9-1-1 Board approved the creation of the new position, and on-site dispatch center supervisors Knox County Sheriff David Barber and Mount Vernon Police Chief Mike Merrilees worked with Hess to choose the dispatchers who would receive the promotion. Each of the three shifts at both dispatch centers now has a lead dispatcher.
Hess said the dispatchers were chosen not on the basis of their seniority, but on their perceived ability to lead by example, and provide good communication between the dispatchers on their shift and their supervisors.
“They’ve basically been interviewing since they’ve been hired,” Hess said of the selection process. The new lead dispatchers have been working for 9-1-1 for a range of one to 15 years.
At a meeting Tuesday, the new lead dispatchers said they believe they now provide a link for communication between their fellow dispatchers, and the management which includes on-site supervisors Barber and Merrilees as well as Hess and Deputy 9-1-1 Coordinator Matt Sturgeon.
“We are accountable for what goes on in that room during our shift,” said county dispatcher Laura Webster.
All six are enthusiastic about their new positions. “I love how far this career has come since I started 15 years ago,” said Webster. “That is partly due to the computers, and also the EMD (Emergency Medical Dispatch) program has streamlined what we do,” she added.
The Emergency Medical Dispatch program provides a protocol for dispatchers to provide step-by-step instructions for procedures such as CPR and other first aid. “We’re able to provide more help to people before the responders arrive, and that’s a benefit.”
County dispatcher Lisa Hart said it can be challenging while the person in crisis is trying to help their loved one and has only the dispatcher to help them while emergency services are en route.
“It can be very stressful depending on the situation, such as if you are giving CPR instructions,” Hart said. “Especially if they are having trouble doing it, it can be frustrating because you just want to jump through the phone and help them. But, you are limited to helping them from where you are,” she said. “You do your best and try to help.”
All six of the dispatchers agreed the public probably does not realize how much they are called upon to do.
“They can have no clue where they are,” she said of disoriented callers who have been in a crash or injured. Computer mapping systems and GPS help the dispatchers pinpoint the callers’ location if they are unable to give an address.
“When they won’t give the address you just feel so helpless,” said Karen Bumpus, who works at the city dispatch center. The new Emergitech software, currently being integrated at both dispatch centers, will aid this process even more.
“They will be able to locate cell phones within 3 yards of their location with the new technology,” said Hess.
The dispatchers provide a lifeline, not only for the callers enduring an emergency, but for the first responders who rely on them to provide back-up and additional equipment should they need it. They also keep track of their safety while on a call.
While Hess estimated as many as 25 percent of the calls to 9-1-1 are not actual emergencies, he pointed out the dispatchers treat each call as if it is of the highest priority.
“Every call’s an emergency and no call is wasted; because to the caller, it is an emergency,” Hess said.
The dispatchers said they have great pride in their positions, which they point out are difficult, and not for everyone. “This really is a career, and not just a job,” said Webster.
City dispatcher Ernie Keen said the commitment and care with which the professionals approach their jobs may not be completely understood by panicked callers who are desperate for emergency help. The dispatchers said callers should know they are calling people for help who will help in anyway they can. “We care, and we’re here to help,” said Keen.