The work of the Jones Co. dispatchers never ends

National Public Safety Telecommunications Week is April 9-15. Those who serve in the Jones County Dispatch Center are, front from left, Sheila Ferrell, Courtney Soppe, Dena Jensen, and Patty Oberbreckling. Back row, Mary Intlekofer, Miranda Husted, Whitney Hall, Steph Coffey, and Tracey Milroy. Not pictured is Clem Sullivan. (Photo submitted)
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     April 9-15 is National Public Safety Telecommunications Week, honoring telecommunications personnel in the public safety community. In Jones County, that means honoring those who serve morning, noon and night in the Dispatch Center.

     Those who work within the Dispatch Center have over 50 collective years of service to the community.

     The Center employs four full-time and four part-time dispatchers. Communication Supervisor Steph Coffey said they are currently taking applications for another full-time slot. Full-timers work 40 hours a week, while the part-timers put in 16 hours, with a shift covering eight hours at a time.

     “We work 24/7, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” said Coffey, meaning holidays, too.

     In a Letter to the Editor written by E911 Coordinator Gary Schwab in the April 5 issue of the Express, Schwab described the dispatchers the first, first responders. Coffey that is definitely true. They are the first to talk to anyone who dials 911.

     When any 911 call comes through, Coffey said the dispatcher listens in for a few seconds before asking what the caller needs. There are different categories of calls such as a criminal complaint, a routine call, or an emergency call. Depending on the type of call, Coffey said the dispatchers know how and where to direct the caller.

     “It’s kind of like we’re in the business of investigating,” explained Coffey of having to ask the caller so many questions to collect the necessary information. “We need to know what’s going on so we know what to pass on to a deputy, the fire department, or an ambulance,” added Coffey.

     Of course, the Dispatch Center receives tragic calls, those they don’t enjoy taking such as a fatal accident or bad fire. Coffey said after 16 years herself, you learn how to debrief.

     “The more experience you have, you figure out how to separate your emotions from a call,” she said. “You take the time to decompress afterwards, and take a moment to process and more on. It could take a few years.”

     Coffey said a fatality is hard anyone, those responding to the scene as well. That’s why the Sheriff’s Department offers debriefing sessions for those involved.

     “We deal with people’s worst days,” said Coffey.

     Coffey said the hardest calls are those involving children and people you know.

     “We have so many small towns here,” she said. “We all know one another, and when a call comes in, your heart just drops.”

     Coffey said she’s had friends and family herself that have experienced a lot of close encounters over the years.

     There are two dispatchers who have EMS training. Coffey said that experience helps in some instances, knowing what questions to ask of a caller if there is a medical issue involved.

     Coffey it’s hard not to be connected to the job 24/7 when you go home. As the director of the Dispatch Center, she stays connected as much as she can be.

     “But I tell my dispatchers not to take their work home with them,” she encouraged.

     When someone starts with the department, Coffey said there is a six-month probation period of learning the job, equipment, software and more.

     “They learn the routine procedures and county policies,” said Coffey, “as well as the ins and outs of how the every day business is run.”

     Coffey said for many, after the first week on the job, they tend to ask themselves, “What did I get myself into?” But she says it’s all about building on one’s weaknesses before their strengths.

     When talking with the person on the other end, Coffey said as a dispatcher they try to connect with the caller, letting them know they, too, have been in their shoes.

     “We talk them through the situation,” she said. They also offer to make any phone calls to friends or family members for the caller while keeping them on the line. Coffey said in one instance, they’ve helped to find temporary housing for a pet.

     There is a lot of work for a dispatcher aside from taking phone calls and text messages. Coffey said they have a lot of documentation to keep track of as well. They document every call, text, walk-in subject and radio traffic calls.

     “Everything we do has to be documented,” she said, not just for the county, but for the statewide system as well.

     When asked about the daily grind, Coffey said it’s simply too hard to explain to the general public how much is involved in the job of a dispatcher.

     “We’re a part of the community, and here to help the community when they’re in need,” she said. “We gather the information in order to give the best and quickest response. Our job is necessary to keep you safe, and for the safety of our responders.”


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