Mt Pleasant News

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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 19, 2018

Sheriff’s Office opens doors for National Telecommunications Week

Apr 12, 2018
Photo by: Grace King Dispatcher Alex Ervine sits at the 911 call desk explaining the different functions of the 10 desktop computers to visitors during the Sheriff’s Office Open House Wednesday, April 11.

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News


The Sheriff’s Office was a revolving door Wednesday night, as curious Henry County residents ventured to pop their heads into the dispatchers’ office where they were greeted warmly by Sheriff Rich McNamee.

McNamee proudly introduced community members to the dispatchers roaming the office April 11, during the Sheriff’s Office Open House, answering questions and explaining their job description to overwhelmed listeners.

“Multitasking doesn’t even begin to cover what they do,” McNamee said.

In the middle of National Telecommunications Week, the Henry County Sheriff’s Office wanted to open their doors to show the public the action that takes place behind their 911 calls.

In 2017, dispatchers in the Sheriff’s Office took over 23,000 calls for service, which include calls in which a police officer, the Fire Department, or Emergency Management Services had to be dispatched. It does not, however, include calls taken and forwarded on to other departments such as the Henry County Jail or a deputy.

The Sheriff’s Office dispatches for their department, police departments in Mt. Pleasant, New London, Winfield and Wayland, eight fire departments, six first responder units and work closely with surrounding counties. Most dispatchers are also jail certified and can assist with those responsibilities if needed.

The Sheriff’s Office has six full time dispatchers and one-part time dispatcher. Usually, there is only one dispatcher on duty at a time, which means when more than one call comes in, they have to decide what the most pressing emergency situation is.

This is when training and practice is important, dispatcher Christina Dresser told visitors. She said that not long ago, she picked up a call and was on another line and asked the 911 caller, “Can you hold?” They said yes, without hesitation; however, when she picked up their call again they asked for an ambulance.

“Sometimes you prioritize the wrong call,” Dresser said, but added they can at least get first responders headed in the right direction immediately and gather the rest of the information later.

Dispatcher Alex Ervine said that it’s important for callers to realize if they are put on hold, there is a reason. This job is complicated, and dispatchers have to handle so much at one time. If there is a 911 call of a car accident with injury and a 911 call that someone’s mother just died that come in at the same time, the job is prioritizing which call to take first.

Dispatchers work with 10 computer screens at once — each one with a very important purpose. From those screens, dispatchers can have point-to-point contact with other dispatchers from surrounding counties and page the Fire Department, first responders and set off the tornado sirens.

Dispatcher Megan Kramer, who has worked at the Sheriff’s Office for 12 years and is currently supervisor, said that there are days when there is “nothing, nothing, nothing,” before calls come in all at once.

There’s no good way to predict a busy day, although dispatchers can assume that days with bad weather, a big event weekend like homecoming or even Friday nights, there will be more calls coming in.

As supervisor, Kramer let the younger dispatchers take the lead on answering the public’s questions during the open house. Kramer is proud of her team and proud to be able to show to the public what they do at work every day.

Kramer always knew she wanted to work in law enforcement in some capacity. Growing up, one of her friend’s mother worked as a dispatcher.

“It’s not a very publicized profession,” Kramer said. “It’s not something you know you can do until you sit down and try.”

On challenging days, Kramer says dispatchers have a knack for compartmentalizing. She focuses on one emergency at a time and thinks about how she can immediately relieve some of the tension in each situation.

Ervine said that the officers they work with help a lot with the emotions. When she gets a particularly strenuous call, she can ask the deputies when they return how it turned out, was anyone critically injured, is everyone OK.

Through the Sheriff’s Office, dispatchers are also offered critical stress debriefing at Great River Medical Center. Although Ervine said she hasn’t used the service before, it is helpful to know she has a support system.

Raised in a “law enforcement family,” Ervine always knew she would end up in law enforcement in some capacity too. Her father was a police officer and both her mother and stepmother were dispatchers.

“I have loved it ever since I’ve been here,” Ervine said. “It’s a very rewarding job.”

Being a dispatcher has made Kramer more observant — although she also chalks that up to being a mother. “You tend to notice every detail: people, places, things, signs, directions,” Kramer said. “That’s for sure because of my job.”

Many of the visitors who stopped by the Sheriff’s Office Wednesday were first responders in some capacity, wanting to put a face and name to the voices they hear over the radio every day.

Myron Hoylman, who is a volunteer firefighter in Olds, walked out of the dispatchers’ office saying that the job was a lot more complicated than he thought it might be.

“A lot of it comes down to common sense, that’s my farmer’s opinion,” Hoylman added.

Paramedic Jacob Dodds said it’s always interesting to meet the voice on the other end of the radio. Other paramedics with him agreed, saying that even though they work at Henry County Health Center, they hadn’t yet met any of the dispatchers who they consider their colleagues.

On his way out the door, Mt. Pleasant firefighter Will Bensmiller called back out to the dispatchers, “You do a hell of a job, especially with something this big. You guys are able to stay pretty calm,” Bensmiller complimented.

In the end, Kramer wants residents to see that being a dispatcher is “more than a clerical position.”

“It involves a lot of public safety knowledge,” Kramer said.

Other dispatchers at the Sheriff’s Office are Laura Ruby, Jill Benedict, Kim Henkle and Janae Body.

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