Ohio county officials: Dispatchers are 'voice behind the operation'

First responders in Erie County know the important role 911 dispatchers fill

Brandon Addeo Tandem Media Network
Norwalk Reflector, Ohio

PERKINS TWP. — The first person someone in crisis speaks to isn’t usually a police officer or firefighter, but a dispatcher.

“They’re the voice behind the operation,” Erie County Sheriff Paul Sigsworth said. “They’re the voice of compassion and the voice of reason.”

Dispatchers at Erie County’s centralized dispatch center act as a guiding voice for many county police, fire and EMS agencies. That said, being a dispatcher isn’t as easy as simply answering a phone call.

Dispatching is difficult

Sgt. Greg Krumnow, communications supervisor at the sheriff’s office, said being a dispatcher is a difficult job that “not everybody can do.”

“The nature of the job is stressful,” Krumnow said. “Demands are high, you have to be able to multi-task and be able to communicate.”

Communicating with 911 callers can also be difficult since people in stressful situations might not be able to provide dispatchers important details, like their location.

“You don’t get people calling on the best days of their life,” Krumnow said.

Dispatchers handle calls for both police and fire agencies, Krumnow said. The training process for new dispatchers can take anywhere from two to three months.

The dispatchers also complete certification courses through the Association of Public Safety Communication Officers, or APCO, Sigsworth said.

Anatomy of 911 call

When a person in Erie County dials 911, the call goes to the central dispatch center, which is inside the sheriff’s office building on Columbus Avenue and is staffed by about four dispatchers at any given time.

On the 911 call, a dispatcher’s first concern is to get the location the person is calling from to get emergency responders to the scene as quickly as possible.

“If someone having difficulty breathing calls 911 we’ll say ‘911, where is your emergency?’” Krumnow said. “Then, hopefully, they’ll give us their location and say what is going on.”

Dispatchers do have the technology to determine the location of people calling 911, Krumnow said. In the past, getting a cell phone’s GPS location was difficult, but technology has advanced enough so that dispatchers can track a 911 caller’s location accurately.

“It’s very seldom we’re not able to find (a caller’s) precise location,” he said.

Once the location is determined, dispatchers will notify the appropriate agency to respond to the call. Krumnow said Erie County’s dispatchers can “tone out” an agency by pressing a button on a screen and can then fill in their personnel on the details of the 911 call.

Until that happens, however, it’s up to dispatchers to help people in need, particularly with medical emergencies. Sigsworth said dispatchers are able to give 911 callers prepared instructions on many different situations, including a heart attack, childbirth and severe cuts and wounds.

“We are the first responders, we’re able to help the quickest,” Krumnow said.

Misconceptions about dispatchers

Some people might think all dispatchers do is answer 911 calls, but Krumnow said the job is much more than that.

Dispatchers have to handle active arrest warrants — about 2,400 — along with entering missing persons, vehicles and other data into databases.

“Each (warrant) takes about 20 minutes to process,” Krumnow said.


©2019 the Norwalk Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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