911 Operators: The Public Servants Who Keep Calm and Carry On

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911 Operators: The Public Servants Who Keep Calm and Carry On

The head of the IFD 911 call center says the dispatchers aren't the public face and don't get the accolades he says they deserve.

INDIANAPOLIS--The most important piece of advice if you have to call 911 is to keep calm. But, the 911 dispatch operators in Indiana get good training to help with that, said Battalion Chief Jacob Spence, head of the 911 call center at the Indianapolis Fire Dept.

"Part of their training is how to remain calm on different types of calls, how to diffuse calls if they have a panicked person or an agitated person, how to work through that," said Spence.

Dispatch operators across the country are celebrating National Telecommunicator's Week. Spence said he believes 911 operators don't get enough praise.

"The folks that work in our center, both the police side and fire side, do an amazing job," he said. "They have to put up with a lot that they don't get accolades for. They're not the public face either in the police department, the fire department, the EMS service and they do a great job behind the scenes."

Some of that job involves dealing with tough situations like a child having an emergency or someone having a heart attack.

"Anytime anyone's in cardiac arrest, everyone's very heightened, very anxious. We give great instructions over the phone, how to assist people if they have a loved one or witness cardiac arrest. Child birth is another one that we help our controllers give instructions over the phone, essentially help deliver babies over the phone," said Spence.

He said most counties in Indiana have a single 911 center for police, fire and all emergency services. In Indianapolis it's different because of the number of calls. In one day, the center took over 7,000 calls, about 4,000 of those being emergencies.

Spence said it's important to call 911 only if you have a true emergency, like a medical situation, a break-in, an assault or a fire. He said he enjoys his job because he and his crew of 35 dispatch operators get to help people.

"I like the different aspects of how it helps people," he said. "They connect the public with the emergency service they need at the time. They are that link to getting a response for the public."

PHOTO: Chris Davis/Emmis

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