Public safety communications officers, commonly know as 911 dispatchers, play a vital role in protecting the life and property of Barton County citizens, a role only heightened during the COVID-19 pandemic. That is the crux of a proclamation adopted by the County Commission Monday morning marking this as National Public Safety Communications Officers Week.
“Most of the time, the dispatcher is rarely thought of or recognized as the first line of help,” 911 Director Dena Popp said. “We are the face that is never seen. We are the golden glue that holds it all together.”
Dispatchers in Barton County are proud to serve his profession, and continue to despite rarely being told, good job or thank you, Popp said.
“I think sometimes people don’t understand your job, and I certainly hope they don’t feel that coming from this commission,” District 5 Commissioner Jennifer Schartz said. “We really are very appreciative that they do.”
District 2 Commissioner Barb Esfeld said Popp gave her a tour of the 911 center and she saw that it was not an easy job. “I want them to know how much we as commissioners do appreciate them, and they do a wonderful job.”
A challenging year
“In times of intense personal crisis, community-wide disasters, and now this COVID-19 pandemic, the first point for those seeking emergency services is 911,” Popp said. There have been many changes over the last year with new procedures facing callers because of the outbreak.
“The public safety communication centers that received these calls have emerged as the first and single point of contact for people seeking immediate relief during an emergency,” she said. Amid this pandemic, Popp said two calls stood out in her mind.
First was a truck driver who passed through Barton County, but wound up on a ventilator in Oklahoma City with COVID. The hospital worked with local dispatchers to track down family members.
The second was from a family member who would appreciated the positive contact they had with the 911 Center.
On March 29, 2020, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly signed Senate Bill 40 that designated dispatchers as emergency responders along with law enforcement, fire fighters. That was after about a year-long effort by Kansas chapter of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials and National Emergency Number Association.
“Each dispatcher has exhibited compassion, understanding and professionalism during the performance of their job in the past year,” Popp said.
A difficult job
“If you have an emergency, whether it’s medical, fire, an accident or a crime, who do you call for help? When you think of who responds in emergencies when you think most people would say police, sheriff fire or EMS,” she said. “But who is the first entity you speak with when you call for help? It’s your 911 dispatch center.”
Even if one calls the sheriff’s department or police department, they’ll transfer them to dispatch. Dispatch will ask pertinent questions to get the appropriate units responding, Popp said. They also run names, vehicle tags and driver’s licenses for officers, log all radio transmissions, as well as take 911 calls.
“We listened to callers reporting crime, civil matters, medical emergencies, fires, even those in mental crisis,” she said. “Dispatchers are the lifeline for officers and other emergency responders.”
Dispatching is often perceived as an easy job where one just sits behind the desk and answers phones and radios. “However, being an emergency dispatcher is not for everyone.” she said.
It necessitates rotating shifts, time away from family, even on the holidays and weekends. They must have thick skin, patience and the ability to handle high stress, and the ability to multi-task at high levels.
“It requires the ability to handle those who curse at you and yell at you, the ability to show empathy and understanding. It requires the strength not to break down when a loved one collapses or a baby quits breathing, or when you have an hysterical caller whose house is on fire with pets are family inside,” she said. They have to act quickly to gather necessary information and get it to the responders.
According to the proclamation, “communications officers are the first and most critical contact citizens have with emergency services, and they are the single vital link for emergency responders, monitoring their activities by radio, providing them information and insuring their safety, she said. Barton County Communications Officers have contributed substantially to the apprehension of criminals, suppression of fires and treatment of patients.”
In a related item, the commission has been invited to attend the Communications Department staff meeting at 6 p.m., Tuesday at the Communications Center, 1300 Stone, Great Bend.
Barton County Commission meeting at a glance
Hear is a quick look at what the Barton County Commission did Monday morning:
• Adopted a National Public Safety Communications Officers Week proclamation.
• Approved a resolution establishing a permitting system for bailing hay in county right of way.
Included with the resolution is a Barton County Harvesting Hay on County Right-of-Way application which describes the permit, performance and liability directives, County Works Director Darren Williams said.
The county works director would manage the program under established guidelines and provide the commission an annual report relative to the permitting and permitting fees collected.
• Ratified the purchase of a replacement Road and Bridge Department vehicle.
On Oct. 12, 2020, the commission authorized the purchase of 2021 Silverado 3500HD one-ton dually cab and chassis from Manweiler Chevrolet in conjunction with the installation of a bed and equipment from BS Trailer Sales. Since that time, Manweiler Chevrolet changed ownership.
The purchase of the Silverado needed to be ratified to the new dealership owner, Ehler Chevrolet, County Administrator Phil Hathcock said.
• Tabled action on transferring $24,861 from the Register of Deeds Office to the technology fund. Although such transfers have been done in the past, commissioners wanted time to visit with department heads during a study session before taking action.