Universally, telecommunicators are ‘heroes behind the scenes,’ O’Fallon Police Captain Mark Berry said.
“We wouldn’t be able to do our jobs serving our citizens without the dispatchers, and that goes for several other departments too,” Berry said.
Last week, O’Fallon joined the nation in honoring its telecommunicators by proclaiming the week of April 11 National Telecommunicators Week in the city.
“O’Fallon’s telecommunicators play a vital role in our community every time an emergency occurs. These professionals work long, stressful hours to ensure that top notch emergency services are provided to our citizens,” said O’Fallon Mayor Gary Graham last week.
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In 1991, the United States Congress proclaimed the second week of April as a nationally recognized week.
National Telecommunicator Week enhances public awareness and promotes the much needed education regarding important public safety issues and legislation by placing national attention on the seemingly nameless and faceless individuals who help save countless lives by answering emergency calls, dispatching emergency professionals and equipment, and providing moral support to citizens in distress.
Diligence, patience and an open mind are necessary qualities every telecommunicator must have, according to Danny Collins, O’Fallon Public Safety Department dispatcher for two years.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time, and there’s a lot of things I love about my job, but I can’t say there’s one specific thing I like most, it’s hard to put my thumb on it,” Collins said.
With a police officer mom, and a youth Explorer program graduate, Collins said he was introduced to the world of public safety early in life, and was formerly a dispatcher in Cahokia for about 15 years prior to joining the O’Fallon Public Safety Telecommunications Team.
“Never knowing what’s gonna come on a different shift keeps us on our toes,” Collins said.
“You’re not coming into work punching the same buttons for eight hours and then going home, just to come back to do it again,” he said.
Helping people is the prevailing reason that brings Collins back to work, time and time again.
“When you can actually reach out there and connect with someone on the phone, not just the everyday call, but when you’re really in the thick of it, and able to help somebody out — it gives you a good feeling inside,” Collins explained.
The work of telecommunicators comes with its fair share of challenges, Collins said.
“The hardest part about our job, I think, is being stuck in one spot,” he said.
Thankfully, the dispatchers are never scheduled solitary shifts, Berry said.
“It really seems to help them emotionally and mentally to have another dispatcher in the same room the whole shift, that way if someone becomes overwhelmed and needs to step out for a minute, they can, or even just small talk between calls to mitigate the boredom helps,” Berry said.
There are times when a dispatcher wants to help more, but that’s not always an option, Collins said.
“There are moments where you can reach out to someone else on the other end, but you can only do so much you can do over the phone, and that can be very frustrating at times,” Collins said.
“Dealing with that and the other stressers was the biggest obstacle for me, and I’ve noticed that happen to new incoming dispatchers too, and I just tell them, ‘as long as you did everything in your power and carried out your role to the best of your ability — that has to be enough,” he said.
Carmen Kuhl, O’Fallon Public Safety telecommunicator since 2014, attributes her passion for dispatching to helping the greater good.
“Every day is different, and so unexpected, you just never know what could happen next,” Kuhl said.
Kuhl said she felt dispatching was best suited for her skill set when asked why it is her career focus, Kuhl said, plus she has friends in the field ta bout.
“It just seemed to be the best fit for me, and it’s a very exciting job,” Kuhl said.
But also having some good ‘ole fitness fun is a perk to her job too, she said.
“I’m really happy the department opted to get this (stationary bicycle) for our center,” Kuhl said.
There is a control panel that allows the user on the stationary bike to adjust the speed, level or resistance, time and distance, as well as keep track of the caloric output.
Stationary cycling while working is a good time, Kuhl said.
“I enjoy it, and it’s nice being able to exercise while dispatching because we don’t really get a chance to get up and out of our chair, so this is very helpful,” Kuhl said.
Although keeping the blood flowing while on duty with the stationary bike is a positive, Kuhl said the work out is merely a supplement to her exercise regiment.
“I can’t go too fast though because then I’m out of breath, and that can become a barrier during calls,” Kuhl said. “People think I’m running or something, so I keep a steady and manageable pace.”
Kuhl said she often takes advantage of the full service fitness room offered to all the public safety personnel, including the police, emergency medical service staff and the telecommunicators.
“Most of our full-time dispatchers use the bike every shift, at least for part of it if not more, but I don’t always get the opportunity to,” Kuhl said.
The O’Fallon Public Safety telecommunicators are comprised of dedicated people serving two communities — O’Fallon and Shiloh, including the two police departments, fire department with four stations, and EMS.
There are eight full-time telecommunicators at the department, and under 10 part-timers, to handle a multitude of critical calls on a daily basis, some life-threatening, and relay safety and medical information to first responders, Collins said.
For more information, please contact O’Fallon Department of Public Safety at 624-4545.