Many people respond to an emergency. The very first respondents, before the fire, medical or police respondents, are the telecommunicators.
National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week began Sunday, April 11. Established in 1981 in Costa County, California, the week was nationally recognized by President Bill Clinton in 1994.
“It celebrates us as heroes,” Richland County Communications/911 Manager Jill Breuer said. “It gives us some recognition. We are the first first responders and we have some really good heroes down here that really put their heart into their job.”
Telecommunicators have the important task of gathering as much important information as possible. They need to be able to dispatch the proper responders when an emergency occurs.
“We’re not going to send an officer in there blindly or send the wrong responders. If it’s a medical situation, we’re going to ask questions like ‘Where are you? Are you or who you’re calling about breathing or conscious?’ It helps us determine who we need to send in addition to the ambulance,” Breuer said.
Many questions come up when a fire breaks out. A dispatcher needs to know what type of building or property is on fire. Whether it’s a house, a commercial building or an industrial structure, there may be chemicals inside or nearby.
“Firefighters will ask us to find out about the wind speed direction, to call the electrical company so the power can be cut to the building,” Breuer said. “Sometimes they want a description of when was the last time there were there. It’s lots of relevant information — Where’s the entrance? Where can we direct people or even pets to go?”
Breuer’s been a member of the Richland County Communications/911 staff for 25 years. She and her colleagues “have heard a lot.” What Breuer hopes for is that people would consider joining the department.
“If you want to be a hero, if you enjoy helping people, we want you around,” she said.
Richland County Communications/911 covers all of Richland County, North Dakota. Its partners include two fire departments in Cass County, North Dakota, 15 volunteer fire departments within the region, five ambulance services, with a largely volunteer workforce and five different local law enforcement agencies.
“Interaction is crucial. You ask the questions. You build on them,” Breuer said.
Breuer and her fellow telecommunicators continue to stress the importance and effectiveness of the Everbridge emergency notification system. To date, 8,880 local cell phones are registered to receive Everbridge notifications. Registration is possible by visiting the Richland County website.
“Telecommunicators are here to be your first first responder, the first people you talk to in an emergency situation,” Breuer said. “We are the people you will probably talk to on your worst day and we’re here to help.”