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Commission honors dispatchers for their service
Job can often be stressful, traumatic
dena popp
Barton County 911 Director Dena Popp tells how her dispatchers are the unseen faces behind emergency calls as she addresses the County Commission Wednesday morning. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

Honoring the “unsung heroes” who serve as 911 dispatchers in support of all emergency operations, the Barton County Commission Wedneday morning approved a proclamation marking next week as National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week.

In part, the Proclamation honors Public Safety Telecommunication Officers for their vital role in protecting the life and property of Barton County citizens, 911 Director Dena Popp said.

“If you have an emergency, fire or accident, who do you call for help? Who do you think of who responds in an emergency? “ Popp said. “Most people answer that question with police, fire or EMS. But in reality, the first person that you speak to in your time of crisis is the 911 dispatchers.”

Even if one calls a law enforcement or a fire department, they’re going to be transferred you to the dispatch center

“We have multiple duties that go unnoticed,” she said. They collect all the pertinent safety and medical information possible so it can be relayed to the responding agencies.

“Dispatchers are often perceived as having an easy job,” Popp said. “We sit behind a desk and answer phones and radio traffic, but really that’s only true at times. Oftentimes, it’s very stressful, mentally taxing and can be quite traumatic.”

It is not a job for everyone, she said. It involves multi-tasking at an extreme level, long shifts including on weekends and holidays away from families and the ability to listen intently.

“It requires the strength not to break down when a loved one collapses or the baby quits breathing,” she said.

“Most of the time, dispatchers are rarely thought of a recognized as the first line,” she said. “We are the face that is never seen. We are rarely recognized as part of the team that helps save lives.”

Over the last two or three weeks in Barton County, there have been many high priority calls. “We’ve had some very serious vehicle collisions, major medical calls, suicides and an influx in overall death cases. We have heard some very traumatic calls recently,” she said.

“I’m very proud of the profession that we serve,” she said. “I’m very proud of the staff that I have.”

“These are really unsung heroes,” said District 5 Commissioner Jennifer Schartz. “This is until you’re in the position that you have to make that call to 911 and that you expect someone to know what they’re doing and are very professional. You just don’t understand that the length that these people go through to make their job happen smoothly.”

When it comes to the stress and trauma, Schartz asked about mental health services for the dispatchers.

“The biggest thing that we have right now is between myself, the supervisors or any staff member, we can report if they see another staff member struggling. There is also an inter-agency stress debriefing team that can meet with all responders to help with issues such as closure.

Although her department doesn’t have a policy on how to handle mental health concerns, “we are in the process of revising our policy procedures. And that’s something that I’d like to look at putting in there.”

“Yout team atmosphere is just wonderful,” said commission Chairman Shawn Hutchinson, District 3. “I did get the pleasure of experiencing how your team operates together. I also got some of the honor of listening to a few of the phone calls that they’ve had. And it can be traumatic.”


The proclamation

“Emergencies can occur at any time that require police, fire or emergency medical services,” the proclamation reads. “When an emergency occurs, the prompt response of communications officers affect the outcome for callers as well as police officers, firefighters and paramedics in the critical protection of life and preservation of property.”

They are the “thin gold line,” it continues. “Barton County Communications officers are the “single vital between the public and emergency responders, providing information, monitoring activities and ensuring safety.”

They are “the voices that are heard but rarely seen, contribute substantially to the safety of our citizens, homes and businesses as well as emergency response personnel,” the proclamation notes. “Citizens are urged to thank those whose calm voices bring fire, police and other services to those in need.”  

National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week is observed “in honor of the men and women whose diligence and professionalism keep our communities and citizens safe.”

Barton County Commission meeting at a glance:

Here is a quick look at what the Barton County Commission did Wednesday morning:

• Approved a proclamation marking next week as National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week.

National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week.  In part, the Proclamation honors Public Safety Telecommunication Officers for their vital role in protecting the life and property of Barton County citizens, 911 Director Dena Popp said.

• Reappointed  Mary Ann Stoskopf, Billie Bonomo and James Welch to the Planning Commission.

The focus of the Planning Commission is to plan for the proper growth and development of Barton County through the enactment of planning and zoning laws for the protection of the public health, safety and welfare, Environmental Manager Judy Goreham said. Although all applicants must reside in Barton County, the majority of members must be from the unincorporated area.

• Authorized Central Kansas Community Corrections’ purchase of a smartphone application for its new Solidarity Program to help probationers with substance use disorders.

CKCC received a grant from the Bureau of Justice Administration, Second Chance Act: Improving Reentry for Adults with Substance Use Disorders, CKCC Director Amy Boxberger said. The Solidarity Program is an alternative to incarceration designed to improve outcomes for probationers with substance use disorder.

One of the unique aspects of the program is to engage probationers with a phone app to aid in scheduling, provide reminders and use of data to reinforce positive habits. CKCC only received one bid, that was from Corrisoft for $39,852.

The county acts as a pass-through agency in this grant money.

• Appointed Dr. Eastin Casey be appointed as a deputy district coroner. This came at the request of Ellsworth County, said 20th Judicial District Coroner Dr. Pat Stiles.

• Approved a proclamation in honor of the University of Kansas’ men’s basketball team winning the 2022 National Collegiate Athletics Association national championship.

• After the agenda meeting, the commission convened as the Board of Health. The agenda includes a departmental update from Health Director Karen Winkelman.