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Governor Rick Perry has declared April 13-19 National Telecommunications Week in honor of those individuals working 9-1-1 dispatch. Each year, the second full week of April is dedicated to the men and women who serve as public safety telecommunicators. It was first conceived by Patricia Anderson of the Contra Costa County (Calif.) Sheriff's Office in 1981 and was observed only at that agency for three years. Members of the Virginia and North Carolina chapters of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) became involved in the mid-1980s. By the early 1990s, the national APCO organization convinced Congress of the need for a formal proclamation. Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) introduced what became H.J. Res. 284 to create "National Public Safety Telecommunicator Week." According to Congressional procedure, it was introduced twice more in 1993 and 1994, and then became permanent, without the need for yearly introduction.
Officer Renteria with the Sweetwater Police Department wanted to make sure the 9-1-1 dispatchers get the recognition they deserve. "9-1-1 telecommunicators are the first and generally only person spoken to when 9-1-1 is dialed," said officer Renteria. "They are the men and women who stay on the line with you, helping to keep you calm during an accident and dispatching officers to the scene. It's a high stress, multi-tasking job and these men and women deserve thanks."
Carla Hebert has been a dispatcher for 17 years, 11 of which have been at the SPD. "Family members of mine worked in law enforcement and that's how I got into it," said Hebert. "Before coming to Sweetwater, I worked in Colorado City and Big Spring." 9-1-1 dispatchers deal with an assortment of calls, including traffic accidents, house fires and deaths. "Calls about children are the hardest," Hebert said. "And children playing with their parents phone or cell phone, accidentally dialing 9-1-1, those are the hardest part about dispatching. Every 9-1-1 call is answered and officers dispatched, even if it's and accidental call." Approximately 40% of 9-1-1 calls are pocket dials.
Along with Hebert, Belindia Seale, Yolanda Saddler, Greg Rowland and Andrea Davis make up the 9-1-1 telecommunicators for the SPD. "We get 9-1-1 calls from all over Nolan County, as well as Mitchell and Jones," added Hebert.
When asked what the best part of her job is, Hebert said, "Definitely helping people. To know that at some point in time I can make a difference in someone's life, it's a great feeling."
The state of Texas and the SPD require continuing education for all 9-1-1 dispatchers. Changes made in the last legislative session require telecommunicators to be licensed by the state of Texas. Currently, anyone wanting to be a 9-1-1 dispatcher must take a 40 hour course on basic telecommunications.
"It takes a special kind of person to do the job," said officer Renteria. "I did it for about a month and a half before becoming a licensed police officer so I have a high appreciation for what Carla, Belindia, Yolanda, Greg and Andrea do."
Lieutenant Randy Hanes weighed in on the telecommunication officers working at the SPD. "Business is picking up; the volume of traffic has increased in our area, which makes the dispatchers' job busier. They do an excellent job dealing with the higher volume of calls, but I would like to remind the general public that there is only one person at the desk answering those calls. Your patience and understanding is appreciated."
Chief Frieda also had nothing but praise for his 9-1-1 dispatchers. "These men and women work very hard at a mostly thankless job, but it's a very critical job. Officers out on the street couldn't do their job without the dispatchers. The evolution of telecommunications has come a long way. When I started, everything was hand written; now, everything is computerized and at our fingertips. More changes are coming, too. That's why it's so important for them to have this continuing education."
Lieutenant Hanes added, "I've had the opportunity to work in other areas and with other telecommunications officers; with what our people do, they do an excellent job."