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At the WCSO, we appreciate the work of our dispatcher

Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office Communications Officers are tucked away in the back end of the Emergency Operations Center, but their remote location from the administrative offices does not mean they are not an important link for Wakulla County law enforcement.

The predominately female dispatch unit is a key component for public safety in the county as the unit links law enforcement, fire protection and emergency medical services to the citizens who need the assistance.
Whether the dispatchers are speaking to a dying man on the other end of the phone or they are speaking to a frantic parent who is concerned about their child, they take extreme care to make sure they obtain as much information as they can from their caller.

They are the conduit to the emergency medical services when someone calls and is frightened that a relative has stopped breathing or is injured. They must also be prepared to direct EMS and firefighters to the proper location to address the emergencies.

Wakulla County Emergency Management Director Scott Nelson supervises the mostly female crew which also includes dispatcher Charlie Odom and Lt. Brad Taylor.
“When you call 911 these are the calm people you are going to get,” said Nelson. “Many 911 callers are emotionally distraught and it is the job of the dispatcher to calm you down and get as much information as they can. They will verify the address and send the best response help immediately.”
The dispatch crew works a 12 hour shift as the road patrol division does although the shift changes do not occur at the same time and the work schedules are altered to not have multiple divisions going on and off of their shift at the same time.

“They find out what is needed,” added Nelson. “Even with the medical and fire calls, they are the first touch the citizen receives.”
It takes a special person to work as a dispatcher because with many calls, the communications officer gets involved in the front end of the emergency, but never gets closure on how the call turned out. “They are all caring folks and they are emotionally attached to that call,” said Nelson.

Due to the size of Wakulla County, many of the dispatchers know family involved with the incoming 911 calls and must still remain calm and handle the call professionally.
The WCSO Dispatch Center can receive many 911 calls at the same time and this is particularly common when motorists with cell phones come upon a traffic accident. But each call from the same incident must be treated like the original call because each motorist may have different or additional information.

The 911 phone calls have a different ring when compared to the normal dispatch calls so communications officers can jump on them quickly even if they are handling an administrative call.
Wakulla County may have two to three dispatchers working on each 12 hour shift and some of the WCSO staff actually prefers to work the night shift. But after difficult shifts Director Nelson will offer the dispatchers counseling. Counseling may be required after fielding calls involving homicides and shootings where stress levels reach incredible heights.

“It is a stressful job and a rewarding job because you are helping people,” added Nelson. “They do a good job and they don’t get enough appreciation for what they do.”
Lt. Taylor is one of two sworn members of the communications team along with Charlie Odom. He would not trade his current work assignment for any other.
“The best part of the job is the ladies I work with,” he said. “This is the best division I have ever worked in and I have worked in detention, school resource, road patrol, criminal investigations and now dispatch.”

Lt. Taylor said the dispatchers not only do a good job but work in a family atmosphere. Lt. Taylor will jump in and assist in the dispatch office at times when call numbers soar. “The more chaotic the room gets the more efficient it gets,” he said.

On this day shift Karen Kemp and Taylor Saladin were wearing the headsets and sitting in front of the communications equipment.
“I like helping people,” said Kemp, whose husband is a lieutenant on one of the four road patrol crews. “It can be upsetting when you can’t get someone there fast enough. But it is gratifying and satisfying to help someone. They are getting the help they need.”

Saladin has law enforcement in her blood as well as her mother is a deputy on one of the road patrol crews. “I like never knowing what to expect,” she said. “But traffic crashes involving motorcycles upset me the most because I like to ride motorcycles. Those cases and cases involving missing little children are most upsetting.”
Saladin takes a break from talking about her job to field a 911 call. Her caller is concerned about a family member who has inured his eye. Saladin collections as much information as she can before determining the best course of action. Sometimes it is difficult to determine what is happening when the caller calls and in those cases law enforcement may be called to the scene to make sure it is safe for firefighters and EMS staff to respond.

Homicide cases are the most difficult along with water involved cases, added Kemp. “I guess it is because it is more difficult to get a deputy out to someone on the water. And I think it is because I am not a great swimmer so it has an impact on me.”
Working with a crew of mostly female employees is a plus to the communications staff, Kemp said.

“The women all get along and we do things together socially outside of work,” added Kemp.

Director Nelson has another piece of the communications pie down the hall in the other direction from the dispatch office. The E-911 office and Rachel Love and her staff play a part in making sure all of the high-tech communications equipment is working properly. The Enhanced-911 telecommunications system automatically associates a physical address with the calling party’s telephone number and routes the call to the most appropriate Public Safety Answering Point. In addition, E-911 is responsible for maintaining the Master Street Address Guide and ensuring data base accuracy and providing dispatchers with the means to direct law enforcement, firefighters and EMS personnel to the correct address quickly and efficiently.

Three things come through to Director Nelson when it comes to communications. “They do a good job, they are very dedicated and there is no way we could ever pay them what they are worth,” he concluded.
It is indeed difficult to measure the impact the dispatchers have on the lives of Wakulla County citizens. But for the crew, they wouldn’t want it any other way.

 

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