With all the unknowns in the past months with the pandemic, 911 centers across the world were some of the first to initiation changes.

The first of the changes was adding in extra questions to all callers, not just the callers requesting a medical response. The questions regarding any fever, cough etc. If yes, is the answer to any or any concern is thought, then it is relayed to all responding agencies.

Dispatchers have always been the first ones on the scene, even though they are hardly ever seen. As soon as the call is answered, a connection with the caller is made. Dispatchers may not be able to touch or see callers, but they have a very distinctive skill set of hearing and directing a caller through a crisis.  They are trained to ask all the correct questions and provide lifesaving instructions. They are also reliable for relaying all information to responding units. This may include information that was not provided by the caller, such as what is happening in the background and advise any units of potential dangers. All centers are capable of adjusting the questions, answers and instruction to the hearing impaired also.

The state of Missouri along with many other states throughout the nation still classify the careers of dispatchers/telecommunicators as a clerical position. We are incredibly grateful for all the clerical positions. However, during the pandemic most clerical employees were some of the first to be without work, due to non-essential. There were no dispatchers sent home due to non-essential, in fact they all are considered very essential. There are many distinct differences between clerical and a dispatcher.

A clerical worker will never have to live with the “what if” factors that a dispatcher lives with every day.

What if: I heard the caller wrong?

What if: The firefighter does not hear the information about the propane tank?

What if: I gave the wrong instructions during CPR?

What if: I was the one that said the wrong thing to set the caller off, that made him attack the officer?

A clerical worker may never have to speak any of the following phrases in their lifetime.

“How many pills were taken?”

“Can you put the gun down and talk to me?”

“I need you to cut your son, down from the tree.”

“Ma’am I need you to listen while I tell you how to give your baby CPR.”

“Are your dad and mom still fighting? Can you and your brother go to another room and lock the door?”

“Do not go back into the burning house.”

A clerical worker may never hear some of these horrific sounds that is told to a dispatcher.

“I just cut my wrist, but I don’t want to die.”

“My dad just shot my mom.”

“My son is drowning; he was swept down the river.”

“My baby is choking, she can’t breathe.”

A dispatcher will speak and hear these multiple times in their career or even the same shift at times. Phrases that no one should ever have to speak or hear but they are reality and needed every day. A clerical worker will never have to live with the flashbacks of replaying calls and wondering if they could have done something different for a better outcome.

Few states have started to recognize these lifesaving heroes for what they are and that is a First Responder. As a citizen you can help dispatchers across the state by reaching out to your state representatives and asking them to pass the 9-1-1 SAVES ACT. When the reclassification change from –“Office and Administration Support Occupations” to “Protective Service Occupations” is passed; dispatchers will have the recognition they deserve along with many avenues will become open for support. Currently only occupations classified as first responders have access to these support options.

Texas County I am proud to say that our small crew of dispatchers have stuck together these last few months, with a new unknown around each corner. They have helped each other out, checking on one another, making sure all is healthy and no risk factors entering the center. They have worked extra and long hours to make sure all the citizens’ calls for help have been answered.

These men and women are true first first-responders along with being the unseen heroes.

The Texas County Emergency Services office in Houston is funded by a 3/8-cent countywide sales tax approved by voters in 2013. Assistant director Terra Culley can be reached by phone at 417-967-5309 or by email at terraculley911@hotmail.com.

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