Having been a 911 emergency dispatcher for 18 years, I have often thought of documenting some of the calls I have taken.  Many of us, in this profession, could certainly write a pretty entertaining book.  I have taken many calls that have made me laugh, cry and sometimes shake my head with wonder at how certain people manage to function at all in life.  I truly believe that this job is a calling.  Not everyone can do it and not everyone should.  It is a difficult job that doesn’t get a lot of praise and more often than not is under intense scrutiny by the administration and often times the media when something goes wrong.  It is heartbreaking to listen to a mother who has found her child not breathing, a woman beaten by the man who is supposed to love her, or a son who has found his elderly father deceased.  My heart goes out to each and every caller who has called 911 in the midst of an emergency and I have answered their call.  Although many, if not all, will never remember our conversation when they called 911 for help, I am hopeful that somehow I made a difference in their lives.  I hope that I have been compassionate.  I hope that I have been able to get them the help they needed quickly and efficiently.  I hope that even though it was a call they never wanted to have to make, somehow I made it a little bit easier.  The purpose of this blog is to give you an inside look into my life as a 911 dispatcher and to document the calls I have carried with me for years.  Being a 911 dispatcher is not only a job, it is a lifestyle.  It requires crazy work hours including holidays and weekends.  It consists of many hours spent away from family and friends, missed meals and missed special occasions.  It requires being tethered to a console for eight (and sometimes up to fourteen) hours at a time.  It is a job that requires personal sacrifice and a sincere willingness to help people.  My family has often taken a backseat because of my choice of career.  I have missed numerous events that were important to my children.  I am blessed that somehow they are able to look past that and love me anyway. 

Being a  911 dispatcher was not my chosen career path.  I landed in the hot seat not by choice, but more by circumstance.  I went to college at Vincennes University in Vincennes, Indiana and graduated with an Associate Degree in Corrections.  Much to my mother’s horror, I wanted to work in the prison system.  Although my father was supportive, I think he hoped it was just a phase I was going through.  I was not a great student in high school.   I was barely an average student.  I hated high school.    I was anxious to go to college and study something I was actually interested in.  I think law enforcement was a good fit for me.  I had a brother who majored in conservation law enforcement and while I couldn’t see myself as a cop, I could see myself as a corrections officer.  I have always been a rule follower.  I like rules.  I like laws.  I like boundaries.  (My kids can verify this)  Let the cops do the hard work bringing in the bad guys.  I could certainly do my part in keeping them behind bars away from society.  In college, with my dream in sight, I  kept my nose in the books and excelled at a level that surprised even myself.    Nothing can motivate a child more than his/her parent’s displeasure at their career choice.  Come hell or high water, I was out to prove my parents wrong.  Being told that I couldn’t or shouldn’t go into my field of choice lit a fire in me.  Graduating with honors made it an even more wonderful experience.  My mother begged my professors to talk some sense into me.  Much to her dismay, they all praised me and assured her I would do fine in my chosen career. 

I got married shortly before my college graduation and had my first child, Austin, prior to gaining employment at the Huntington County Sheriff’s Department in Huntington, Indiana.  I worked as a jailer for a year and a half.  I loved my job.  I loved putting on my ugly brown uniform and going to work everyday.  Jailers aren’t allowed to carry weapons so really, the only thing I had to defend myself was an extremely large flashlight.  Thankfully it was never taken from me, nor was I beaten to death with it by some crazed prisoner desperate to get out.  I loved holding the key that kept the bad people behind locked doors.  I loved doing my part to keep society safe.  The jail held about one hundred prisoners and I worked with wonderful people who always had my back.  At five foot six inches tall and about 150 pounds, I wasn’t very intimidating physically.  I considered myself pretty scrappy and didn’t hesitate to jump in on the action, but I’m sure my male coworkers wondered if I would be able to defend myself at all, let alone help them in a bad situation.  Bless them for never saying so to my face or even behind my back.

I worked in the jail on the dogwatch shift (11:00pm – 7:00am).  The jail was located on the secured side of the building along with the dispatch center.  The jailers were constantly in and out of dispatch because the controls for the doors in the jail were in the dispatch center along with security cameras that were located throughout the jail.  Since there was only one dispatcher on duty at a time, and the deputies were out on the road, the jailers often “covered”  for the dispatcher when they needed a bathroom break.  More often than not, this job fell to the more senior jailer (usually Tim Duhammel)who didn’t panic every time the phone rang.  Every once in a while though, I had to take my turn.   I didn’t know much about dispatching at that time, but I knew I was terrified that ANY call would come in while the regular dispatcher was indisposed.   I had a few crash course lessons from a seasoned dogwatch dispatcher by the name of Jerry Grimes.  Basically,  he taught me enough to be dangerous.  I made him take a radio with him to the bathroom so I could scream at him to “hurry up” should anything major come in.   How lovely that must have been for him!  I knew how to answer the phone and the radio.  I even knew how to tone out the fire departments.   Honestly, it was a wonder I didn’t have a full blown panic attack knowing the entire county was in my hands for three to five minutes at a time.   The responsibility of sitting in that chair terrified me.  Huntington County dispatches for five small police departments, seven volunteer fire departments and two ambulance services.  I was in awe of the dispatcher who could do it all.  When the dispatcher returned to the console I popped up out of that chair faster than the blink of an eye!    The entire room made me sweat with panic.  Jerry taught me the basics of  dispatch on quiet nights in the jail.   I was the type of person that wanted to be prepared for anything that came in while I was sitting in the hot seat.  I didn’t want anyone to die on my watch, even if it was only 3-5 minutes!  I learned a lot from him, and in time I grew more comfortable during my short stints at the console.  That being said, I had absolutely no desire to do his job!  Too much importance, too much responsibility, too much pressure!  I was happy as a lark in the jail.

After a year and a half of working in the jail, I got pregnant with my second child, Taylor.  Working in the jail wasn’t the safest place for a pregnant woman.  There wasn’t a “desk job” position available in the jail.  It was a hands on position that required me to be around the inmates on a consistent basis.  As confident as I had been in my career choice, I did grow tired of seeing the same inmates day after day.    As luck would have it, there was an opening in dispatch.  As terrified as I was to sit at that console, I knew I had to suck it up and fake the confidence to do it.  I had one young child and was pregnant with my second.  My husband worked full-time and quite honestly, we weren’t financially set for me to have the luxury of not working.  I needed a full-time job.  I applied for the position, interviewed with the sheriff (Rod Jackson) and got the job.   I turned in my heavy set of jail keys and my weapon of choice (the flashlight) in exchange for a shiny, silver badge that said “communications officer”.  There was no getting away from the ugly, brown uniform.

I don’t recall how long it took me to train into that position, but I know that by putting on the face of confidence (fake or not) I began to believe in myself and my ability to do the job.  I was very grateful that I had taken an interest and learned what I could about dispatching when I was a jailer.  While working as a dispatcher, I learned several things about myself.  I learned that I do exceedingly well in busy, stressful times.  I work well under pressure.   I can multi-task with the best of them,  and I can type like a crazy woman when necessary.   As much as I loved working in the jail, I loved working in dispatch more.  I felt like I finally found a place I belonged.   I knew each and every deputy in the department and the smaller towns we dispatched for.   More often than not,  the deputies responded to calls solo.  Deputies don’t have the luxury of having backup close by.   We relied heavily on State Patrol to assist on calls as well as our Reserve Officers who carried a firearm and had authority to arrest.  Officer safety was a big priority and I took my job seriously.   It was my job to know where each officer was and what they were doing.  It was my job to get them the help they needed should they end up in a difficult situation.   I was blessed to have never lost an officer on my watch.  The officers I worked with were fantastic and I learned a lot from them.  They treated me very well.  I could not have asked for a better department to work for.  I’m not sure if they ever knew how much I cared for them, worried about them and bit my nails to the quick sometimes.  I am grateful that Sheriff Rod Jackson saw something in me that made him hire me as a dispatcher.   Although I only worked there about five years, I made several great lifelong friends in the process.  Sgt Tom Tallman is a very good friend of mine who spoiled me rotten with strawberry milkshakes throughout my pregnancy while I was the dispatcher on duty and Chief Deputy Chris Newton is my daughter’s godfather.   

Working for the Huntington County Sheriff’s Department gave me a great start on this career path.  There are certainly calls that I took while working there that I have carried with me all these years.  Those stories and how I managed to end up in Minnesota will be saved for another day.  The older I get, the more important it seems to be for me to remember where I came from.  I would not be where I am today without the time and patience of the dispatchers who took me under their wing to teach me a job that I love.  I fell into this job due to personal circumstances, but once I landed here, I have never wanted to do anything else.