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Dispatcher's view: Unnoticed dispatchers deserve your thanks

This week marked National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week. And while thanking a dispatcher may not be at the top of your priority list, there’s a lot each dispatcher does during his or her shift for which you should be thankful.

In 2013, the St. Louis County 911 answering system answered more than 300,000 calls and had more incidents reported than in any other year on record. That’s more than one call per member of our population. Dispatchers handled calls ranging from fireworks and structure fires to parking complaints and burglaries in progress, all while maintaining a professional manner and acting with incredible speed. Dispatchers work every day of the year, 24 hours a day.

This year saw its first 911 Citizens Academy to showcase to the public how the process works. Citizens filled the room for all sessions, and attendees got to see firsthand the sort of rigorous training and fast-paced environment in which dispatchers provide help — while utilizing the latest technology available to assist callers. These classes will be available in the future as well; so if you’re interested, please watch for upcoming dates.

A few helpful hints if you need to call for help in any situation. First, while the phone is still ringing, breathe and ask yourself, “Where am I?” This is always one of the first questions a dispatcher will ask and the more specific you can be the better the dispatcher will be able to assist you. Please don’t blurt out information. Second, if you accidentally call, stay on the line. You will not get in trouble, and it will save operators from having to make an extra phone call back to you. Lock your phone keys if at all possible to prevent “butt dials.” Finally, dispatchers are not police officers, firefighters, lawyers or doctors; they send you help. They can assist you to get in contact with any number of professionals, but don’t expect them to be able to provide advice or answers; expect them to be able to provide options.

If you know a dispatcher, please thank them this week for the hard work they do every day, relatively unnoticed and behind the scenes.

Ryan Stauber of Duluth is an emergency communications specialist for the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Department.