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Public safety dispatchers the lifeline of 911 community
SOMERTON — Communications supervisor Martha Esqueda said the emergency dispatchers at the city's Public Safety Center never know what kind of call they will get when their phone rings, but they are always ready to handle it.
“It's a lot of thinking fast and making sure you don't miss anything while sending help in a timely manner,” Esqueda said. “I brag about them all the time. When I say I'm proud of the group of dispatchers we have, I truly mean it.”
Fire Chief Paul DeAnda, of the Somerton/Cocopah Fire Department, said the job, while fast-paced and highly stressful, is also one of the most important in public safety, with callers relying on the dispatchers to assist them in their emergencies.
For example, during a 911 call in March 2011 that involved a single-vehicle rollover accident on County 17½ Street and Somerton Avenue, in which one person was killed and four others were seriously injured, the public safety dispatcher, who was on duty by herself that day, handled all of the telephone and radio traffic from nine different agencies involved in the response. All of the patients from that accident were treated within 23 minutes of the call and all arrived to the hospital within 30 minutes.
“It was impressive. That was a tremendous amount of stress to put on one person,” DeAnda said. “Typically (public safety dispatchers) are taken for granted and they shouldn't be.”
While to most people they are only the voice that sends the help they desperately need, this week is National Public Safety Telecommunications Week and fire departments and police forces across the nation are joining other agencies to honor the men and women who aid in providing emergency assistance to their communities.
The Somerton Public Safety Center handles calls for the Somerton/Cocopah Fire Department, the San Luis Fire Department, the Somerton and San Luis police departments and the Cocopah Reservation. Last year its nine dispatchers handled 41,456 calls and 49,828 in 2010.
Esqueda said the job of the public dispatchers is to answer emergency phone calls, assess the information they are being told by the caller then dispatch the appropriate agency to respond to the call.
For serious emergencies, Esqueda said, the dispatcher will remain on the phone with the caller until help arrives. She added the fast-paced environment does not leave any time for the dispatcher to second-guess their decisions.
Officer Jose Sandoval of the Somerton Police Department praised the public safety dispatchers, saying they are the behind-the-scenes first-responders, and all of the information they gather during a call is of vital importance.
“They are our lifeline,” Sandoval said. “They are our eyes and ears. They tell us where to go and what to expect.”
Somerton Police Chief Benjamin Cotman said the dispatchers provide a service that most people are unaware of until they need it. But when the need arrives, he said, it is comforting to know there is a highly trained and dedicated person there to help you.
“They have to be special, and they have to love their job,” Cotman said. “Pay isn't the greatest in the world, so they really like what they are doing and helping people.”
On any given day, Esqueda said, dispatchers must be able to multitask because they are constantly looking up and keeping track of information on multiple computer screens, sending police or firefighters out on calls, monitoring radio communications from several agencies and answering emergency and non-emergency calls.
She went on to say dispatchers must be able to stay calm, even when the caller isn't, and they must be able to quickly gather the information needed to dispatch an emergency call.
“Multitasking is very important and they are very good at what they do,” Esqueda said of her dispatchers. “Some days it is nonstop. Their roles are very important because this is where every call starts.”
Esqueda, Cotman and DeAnda all say the city's public safety dispatchers are extremely dedicated, work well together, and that most have been with the city for many years now.
“I appreciate their loyalty to the residents of Somerton,” Esqueda said. “Their loyalty and commitment is on display every day.”