LONGVIEW, Texas (KLTV) - They sit behind multiple computer screens their entire shift, but they could save your life. They are the operators of 911 dispatch. And although National Public Safety Telecommunications Week is under way, their jobs have not become any less stressful.
Longview Police Department Communications Manager Matt Ainsworth says if anyone deserves a week named for them, it’s 911 telecommunicators.
“It’s a week that we set aside every year to acknowledge who do this very, very difficult job,” Ainsworth said.
He agrees that it’s right up there with air traffic control.
“High stress, technology dependence, shift work, long hours; it’s definitely something else,” Ainsworth said.
That something else has gone from two monitors to six over the years, and they keep an eye on everything.
“You’re monitoring the phones, you’re monitoring GPS, you’re monitoring radios. Multi-tasking is absolutely the heart of what we do back there,” Ainsworth said.
Turnover happens all the time because:
“Somebody’s husband or wife gets reassigned, someone has a child, someone has an adoption and you can’t work shift work anymore,” Ainsworth said.
And sometimes applicants can be rejected since they go through:
“All of the same hiring processes as a peace officer,” Ainsworth said.
And they are now licensed by the state. He says calls have increased over the last couple years.
“People’s ability to define what’s an emergency and what’s not seems to have gotten just a little bit skewed,” Ainsworth said.
Even so, dispatchers try to be understanding.
“They’re calling us because they need help. It may not meet the definition of emergency to us, but we’re providing a public service,” Ainsworth said.
They do a lot of referrals. He says suicide calls have increased the last few months. They train for that:
“But sometimes there’s just literally not much we can do since someone’s either made up their mind, or we get the call after the fact. But it’s one of the hardest things that we deal with,” Ainsworth said.
Ainsworth says road rage and mental health issue calls have also increased, but through all of it some dispatchers continue on for decades.
Maybe it’s partly because:
“We do tell the police officers where to go and we get a little bit of a kick out of it sometimes. We’re telling them where to go but we’re also watching out for them at the same time. We’re trying to be that lifeline for the first responders,” Ainsworth said.
To become a dispatcher it takes about a month in a classroom, and about ten months on the equipment, although prospective dispatchers are paid during the training period.
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