PSAPs’ Finest Flashback: Sheila Van Grol, Monroe County E9-1-1

In recognition of National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week which takes place this year from April 10th through the 16th, NICE will be publishing the stories of some of our previous PSAPs’ Finest Award winners. Below is a story on Sheila Van Grol, one of our inaugural PSAPs’ Finest award winners, originally published in 2005.

When 9-1-1 rings, you never know what will be on the other end of the line. On April 8th 2005, Sheila Van Grol, a telecommunicator for Monroe County (NY) E9-1-1 center, had just settled in to work her evening shift when she answered a 9-1-1 call from a distraught caller who exclaimed, “I just hurt my family.”  

Amidst the caller’s continuous shrieks and sobs, Sheila was able to quickly assess the situation. The caller was not injured – but the caller’s family had been stabbed. In little over a minute, Shelia had police, fire and ambulance personnel responding to a confirmed address. Her continuous flow of remarks to the police helped to secure the scene so that medical personnel could enter safely. Upon entering, police found the caller cradling his critically wounded two-year old daughter. The caller’s wife and four year old daughter were both dead.

The physician who later performed surgery on the two-year old would say that the child, who had suffered multiple stab wounds, had been just “hours from death.” Had it not been for the information that Sheila provided to the police officers who were first to arrive on the scene, the EMS personnel might not have been able to enter the residence, and the child might not have survived.

When the caller was later charged with first degree murder in the deaths of his wife and four-year old daughter, Sheila would be called as a key witness in the case. After introducing the chilling ten-minute 9-1-1 call into evidence for the prosecution, Sheila would spend over 90 grueling minutes on the witness stand answering questions from the defense. Although the caller claimed that he had blacked out and had no memory of the attacks, a jury found him guilty on all counts and sentenced him to life in prison.

Monroe County E9-1-1 Operations Manager Vicki Van Halle, who nominated Sheila for the NICE Telecommunicator of the Year Award, had this to say. “Shelia did all she possibly could in this situation to ensure the safety of the first responders, to get emergency medical care to the surviving child, and to speak on behalf of those who had died.”

According to Van Halle, when it comes to handling 9-1-1 calls, Sheila exhibits true grit and extraordinary gut instinct as well. Van Halle cites another incident where Sheila was recognized for her quick thinking on a hang up call. When Sheila called the number back, a woman answered the phone and indicated there was no problem. But Sheila detected something different in the woman’s voice and quickly alerted the police. Deputies arrived at the residence to find a violent domestic dispute in progress.

Van Halle also says that Sheila has a great deal of compassion and common sense, and an uncanny ability to connect with any caller regardless of the situation. “She answers each call with a smile on her face regardless what it could be,” said Van Halle. “Depending on what it is, she easily flows to the right tone – whether she needs to be compassionate with an elderly woman who’s calling for her husband, or get down to a different level to prod information from a child. Whatever the situation, she automatically shifts gears just like that. She’s very good at it.“

In September of last year, Sheila fielded a call from a citizen requesting an ambulance for a person who was having seizures. Sheila stayed on the line with the caller until the ambulance arrived, and later received thanks and gratitude from the person’s family for her skill and compassion in handling the incident.

Sheila’s talents and dedication as a telecommunicator haven’t gone unnoticed. In addition to the kudos she has received from private citizens and from her peers, she shared the first place standing in the 2006 NICE Telecommunicator of the Year contest. She also recently received a meritorious service award from the City of Rochester, NY, for her outstanding work as a public safety telecommunicator.


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