50 Years of 9-1-1: Recollections from the Front Line

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With today marking the 50th anniversary of 9-1-1, it's a good time to recognize the individuals who've been taking all those calls for 50 years – 9-1-1 telecommunicators. While 9-1-1 technology has evolved over the years, the character, heart and steadfast courage of telecommunicators is a common thread across the decades. Recently, I asked people who have previously or are currently serving in the role of 9-1-1 telcommunicator to recount their most memorable experiences and explain why they love the work they do every day. Below are some of their answers:

Emily Davis, CMCP, Supervisor III, City of Dallas, Dallas Police Department

"I was working night shift during Mardi Gras and received a call from a woman who said that she and her husband had driven down to Galveston island separately to have dinner. She had taken the car and he was adamant that he wanted to ride his new motorcycle. They had dinner on the island and left the restaurant at the same time to go home back to the north side of Houston, but hours later he had not returned home. They had only briefly passed through my jurisdiction on the highway and I had no information to give her, but I took her name and number and told her I would do my best. After some searching I came across an accident just near the island between a vehicle and a motorcycle, low and behold the registration returned to my caller's husband. He had been struck and transported to the trauma center at the local hospital where he was in critical condition. The Galveston PD was able to contact her with the information that I had and let her know where her husband was.

She called me not long afterwards and told me that unfortunately her husband had succumbed to his injuries and passed away that night. She then thanked me through her tears and said that if it had not been for me locating him she would never have made it to the hospital in time to see him and tell him she loved him before he passed. That solidified for me the reason I got into law enforcement and although the ending was not a happy one I was able to give her that last moment."

Angie Phillips, 9-1-1 Operator, Fire Department, Communications, City of Arlington

"One of my most memorable moments was when I was first cut loose. I had a young man who was in a vehicle with his grandfather. The grandfather was having a heart attack. I instructed the young man to help pull the vehicle over and start giving CPR. The grandfather survived."

Tim Nielsen, NICE Administrator, the Metro Nashville Department of Emergency Communications

"Early on in my Telecommunicator career I received a call from a family who had lost a baby to crib death. Even though that was over 20 years ago, I still remember that call. Today in a support capacity I hear daily about how our telecommunicators help save lives: performing CPR, helping expected parents deliver a new life into this world. All of this…..so they can hang up the phone and do it again. I often hear about how we should honor our First Responders, and I am honored to say I work with those took the call FIRST!"   

Kimberly Ivey, 9-1-1 Operator, Fire Department, Communications, City of Arlington

"I took a call for a baby who wasn't breathing. I provided CPR instructions and did the best I could. I later learned it was the grandchild of a co-worker. This really had an impact on me. It brought home the realization that while we are busy getting the answers to our questions for responder safety and giving instructions to assist the patient, we mustn't forget that our caller is someone's child or parent or loved one. Being the one to compassionately provide that help is what makes me realize the importance of what we do each day."

Hattie Schweitzer, Dispatch Supervisor, SNOPAC 911 (WA)

"I started at SNOPAC 911 in September, 1996. Thankfully, I began my career when E911 was already available in our county. Shortly after I was released to take 9-1-1 calls on my own, I took a call from a 12 year old boy whose mother had just stabbed herself in the stomach with a butcher knife. Both the boy and his mother were using the phone at the same time, passing it back and forth. To this day, I'm not certain if the mother wanted help or not, but her son certainly did. None of the calls I had taken in training prepared me for how this situation would sound. Unfortunately, the mother did not survive and there was little her son could do for her.

This was the call that made me realize the importance of my work at 9-1-1. The 12 year old boy who called 9-1-1 could count on somebody being there for him. Maybe we couldn't help his mother, but we were there to help her son."  

Melissa Robertson, 9-1-1 Operator, Fire Department, Communications, City of Arlington

"I answered a call about an accident and people were injured. I didn't think much of the call until the next day when I found out that one of the callers was a 13 year old girl who happened to be the sister of my son's friend. It was the first time she had to call 9-1-1. She thanked me for being so kind and patient. In moments of fear, sometimes we are the only voice that can help calm people down. This job is so important and a responsibility I am proud to have."

Sheryl Hughes, C.M.C.P, 9-1-1 Audio Records Custodian, Harris County Sheriff's Office, Communications & Technology Bureau, Communications Division

"I really do not have one particular call that stands out above all the rest. I have worked in this field since January 1989 for the Harris County Sheriff's Office in the Emergency Dispatch Center. Since 2001 I have worked in the Audio Records area as one of the Records Custodians. From time to time when an emergency or natural disaster occurs such as the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey in August of 2017 all of us were reassigned to help on the call floor answering 9-1-1 calls. I have never evacuated for a Hurricane. I have always been at work during this time. This was one of the more difficult tasks since we had to evacuate our own call center and I already knew on Sunday that my family home had flooded. I was thankful that my parents had returned to their home out of town and my dog was at my sister's house. My other sister and her family who live across the street evacuated because they did not want my two year old niece to be at home if it flooded. Somehow you manage to keep going forward answering call after call of people needing to be rescued from the rising water. Before you know it six to seven days have passed and you are released to go home to take care of your flooded property. To me the aftermath was more overwhelming than working in a call center. I have also worked part-time for a smaller agency that answers 9-1-1 calls and dispatches Police, Fire and EMS. My best advice for others is to remember to drop your worries at the door before you come to work and do the same when you return home. It has been a very rewarding career."

Dora Nweke-Hinkle, 9-1-1 Operator, Fire Department, Communications, City of Arlington

"Medical calls always remind me of the importance of the work I do with 9-1-1. Providing instructions to give CPR to try and save a life or comforting someone when they find a loved one has passed away, makes me grateful to have a job where I can make a positive impact on a citizen."

Amber Inman, 9-1-1 Operator, Fire Department, Communications, City of Arlington

"I love my job. I never thought growing up I would be a 9-1-1 call taker, but here I am! This job is not easy but is beyond rewarding. We deal with excited, scared and raging callers, all the while communicating with other dispatchers, officers, and firefighters, managing computer systems and even providing medical attention. Yes it can be very hard, especially emotionally, but at the end of every shift I am proud to a 9-1-1 call taker. I wouldn't change this job for anything. I am blessed to be serving the public and making sure they get help they need."

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