By Tamas Mondovics
Each year Sheriff’s deputies, detectives, firefighters and emergency technicians respond to thousands of calls as they solve crimes, make arrests, save lives and ultimately help make a difference in their communities.
But while these heroes most often find themselves in the spotlight, none of what they do would be possible was it not for the talented, dedicated, hardworking operators who field thousands of 911 calls, dispatch first responders and handle other emergency communications tasks.
These unsung, behind-the-scene heroes were recognized and appreciated last month during the annual National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week held April 13-19.
The designation was first conceived by Patricia Anderson of the Contra Costa County, Calif. Sheriff’s Office in 1981 and was observed only by that agency for three years before other agencies began to follow suit.
The week-long event locally focused on the operators at Sheriff’s Office Communication Bureau at the Sheriff’s Operation Center at 2008 E. 8th Ave. in Ybor City as well as those at the Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Emergency Dispatch Center located at 2711 E. Hanna Ave. in Tampa.
Each year, by Presidential proclamation, the nation honors these operators while offering dispatchers the opportunity to take credit for the critical work they perform, and for communities to recognize the specialized skills that dispatchers provide.
While, they may be called everyday heroes, the work that 911 dispatchers perform is by no means mundane, requiring control, stamina and determination to provide the level of care necessary for every call and to give lifesaving instructions.
HCSO Communication Bureau Director and 28-year veteran with the Sheriff’s Office Brad Herron spoke highly of his crew of about 25 operators that work around the clock handling approximately 1.5 million calls, a third of which are 911 calls.
“This is a busy job, you either love it or hate it,” Herron said. “We are in fact the first, first responders. We answer calls for the media, EMS, fire and of course all law enforcement type calls that sometimes include active shootings or stabbings or burglary and robbery incidents, which requires a lot of focus and control on the part of our operator.”
Herron emphasized the need of self-dedication on the part of the dispatcher as a vital element of performing successfully, with the reward of knowing that someone is getting help.
Along with quality supervisors Wendy Young and Stephen Pike, Herron thanked everyone who contributed food and other gifts as a way of showing their support for the work of operators at the Communication Bureau.
The same was also true in the case of all operators that work for the Hillsborough County Fire Rescue.
“As first responders, 911 dispatchers are a vital link in making sure the correct help is dispatched to fire and medical emergencies in Hillsborough County,” said Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Information Officer Ronnie Rivera. “They are the heart of fire rescue.”
Hillsborough County Fire Rescue dispatchers go through more than 1,000 hours of training to gain certification by the National Academy of Emergency Medical and Fire Dispatch and to successfully complete a probationary period within the first year of employment.
When asked what helps her maintain focus to handle the inseparable stress that often accompany the calls, HCFR dispatcher Debbie Danish, a 12-year veteran, did not hesitate to answer.
“Every day is different and some days are rough,” Danish said, but added, “Helping people and doing my job, being there for them in their time of need and distress is what keeps me here.”
For more information on Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, visit www.HillsboroughCounty.org/FireRescue.
For information about the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office visit www.hcso.tampa.fl.us.