Dispatch: The guardians of peace during times of disaster

Jess Oaks
Posted 4/19/24

TORRINGTON – On February 16, 1968, in Haleyville, Alabama, the first 9-1-1 call in the history of the United States was placed which marked the beginning of the 9-1-1 emergency dispatch system. …

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Dispatch: The guardians of peace during times of disaster


TORRINGTON – On February 16, 1968, in Haleyville, Alabama, the first 9-1-1 call in the history of the United States was placed which marked the beginning of the 9-1-1 emergency dispatch system. The system is now widely used to report all types of emergencies from police, medical emergencies, fire, and other public safety concerns. 

In 1981, Patricia Anderson of the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office in California initially started what would later become National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week (NPSTW) and in 1994, President Clinton signed Presidential Proclamation 6667, declaring the second week of April as NPSTW. 

“In an emergency, most Americans depend on  9-1-1. Each day, more than half a million public safety communicators answer desperate calls for help, responding with services that save the lives and property of American citizens in need of assistance,” the proclamation reads. “These dedicated men and women are more than anonymous voices on the telephone line. They are local police, fire, and medical professionals who use public safety telecommunications to quickly respond to emergency calls. They are also federal public safety officials who use telecommunications for everything from drug interdiction to protecting forests to promoting conservation. We rely on their knowledge and professionalism as they make critical decisions, obtain information, and quickly dispatch needed aid.”

The proclamation continued to say telecommunicators serve citizens in countless ways and they are often the “unseen first responder” which is invaluable in emergency situations. The proclamation mentions each of the dedicated men and women serving as telecommunicators deserve our heartfelt appreciation. The proclamation was signed by the president on April 12, 1994. 

“I just want to take a minute to chat with you about our communications team,” Torrington Chief of Police, Matt Johnson said as he spoke during the Torrington City Council Meeting held on Tuesday evening. “This week is NPSTW, dispatch week, for those of us who have been around a couple of years. I just wanted to recognize the amazing work that our communications team does to keep our community safe.”

Johnson listed each telecommunications team member with their title, citing, Torrington Central Dispatch Center has five full-time employees, communications supervisor Bailye Goulart, communications officer Brenda Miller, communications officer Hillary McNees, communications officer Heather Kraus, communications officer Ron Palfy, and two part-time employees, community service officer Tammy Cearns and community service officer Teri Shinost. 

“These seven folks are it,” Johnson said. “They are the first line of defense for public safety in our community. Everything that starts here, and everything that keeps people safe here starts with them. Every single 9-1-1 call in our entire county goes to our communication center that’s just on the other side of that wall. They provide a voice of calm, kindness, and help when it is really desperately needed by folks who are in crisis,” the chief continued.

“We dispatch for four law-enforcement agencies. We have four ambulance services; and nine volunteer fire departments and we answer after-hours [calls] for the city utilities. So, if there is a power outage, all the calls come in here,” Goulart said from in front of her desk in the central dispatch center. “We answer 9-1-1 and nonemergent calls for all of Goshen County.”

Last year in 2023, the dispatch center answered 23,612 incidents which averages out to about 65 calls per day, according to Goulart and generally the center runs with one dispatcher.

“Our dispatchers here work 12-hour shifts. We generally work one dispatcher at a time so it can definitely get overwhelming in here especially when stuff is going crazy,” Goulart added.  

The dispatch center in Torrington may only have a handful of employees but they defiantly make up for the small number of dispatchers by their years of experience.

“We have four full-time dispatchers, a supervisor, and our two community service officers also help fill in when we need,” Goulart, who’s been with the department for six years, explained. “Between all of us, we have about 129 total years of experience.” 

Teamwork is important in the dispatch center.

“We have dispatchers ranging from two months of service up to 20 years for our full-time dispatchers,” Goulart said. “We have our community service operators, who have both been dispatchers in the past, one of them has been here for almost 38 years and the other one is almost 22 [years]. We have a lot of knowledge that has been passed down,” Goulart explained. “Everybody has something that excel at so we kind of all complement each other in getting things done.”

Being a first responder can often lead to mental health struggles and dispatchers face a mental health struggle unlike police officers and medical personnel. 

“Sitting in here it stinks sometimes,” Goulart expressed. “We don’t generally get closure on a lot of the stuff we deal with because we don’t get to see it through to the end. Once we get people there, we disconnect, the phone anyway, it still plays on in your head especially something that’s super traumatic.”

Often, dispatch is left wondering what the outcome of a situation is.

“Sitting here if you’re on the phone with someone dealing with potentially the worst day of their life, you kind of have it pictured in your head what’s going on but you never actually know what’s taking place. So, it is nice once in a while when we do get that closure it kind of helps us close it out,” Goulart explained. 

Goshen County is a small community and oftentimes, first responders experience assisting with their own family and friend’s emergency. 

“Another downfall of working in such a small community is you’re inevitably going to deal with someone you know, and you hope it’s not terrible but it’s going to happen,” Goulart explained. 

Goulart reported the dispatch center does receive a lot of hang-up 9-1-1 calls.

“If you accidentally dial 9-1-1, don’t hang up,” Goulart explained. “We get a lot of those. Most of the time it’s someone who hands their kid a cell phone they don’t anymore not realizing they can still call 9-1-1.

According to Goulart, it is okay to say the 9-1-1 call was placed accidentally. 

“It saves everybody time and frustration. We just want to make sure everyone’s safe,” Goulart said. “We don’t want a situation where someone has been trying to call 9-1-1 and there may be someone there preventing them from finalizing the call, so we just want to make sure the community stays safe.”

Dispatchers receive hours of training and education to perform their duties of assisting callers during their most vulnerable moments and they are trained to follow protocol for each type of emergency.

“Especially with medical calls we have what is called ‘emergency medical dispatch’,” Goulart said. “These are protocols that have been approved by our emergency medical services director and his medical director. These give us specific questions that we have to ask. They give us word-for-word instructions for giving someone instructions for CPR, the Heimlich maneuver, and childbirth.”

Emergency services in Goshen County are often on a volunteer basis and because it is so spread out, emergency response time may take an extended amount of time.

“We live in such a rural area that there are some people that are 50 miles away from the nearest medical help, so this helps us improve patient outcomes by giving people that on scene something to do until help arrives,” Goulart said. “People do get frustrated with us for asking these questions, but they are proven to help.”

Even though the questions may annoy some callers, Goulart says the conversation helps the callers focus on helping during the situation. 

“When you give someone that’s amped up something to do, it really does help calm them down,” Goulart expressed. 

Goulart explained each of her computer monitors by the primary function for the community was citing a screen for weather radar, the 9-1-1 system, which takes up two screens alone, the radio communication system screen, and the dispatch records management system or computer-aided dispatch system screen and not to mention camera surveillance screens.

Goulart enjoys working and serving the community of Goshen County. 

“The community here is generally pretty awesome to work with,” Goulart said. “They are really supportive of what we do, and chief Johnson is big about keeping everyone as informed as we can. It’s been nice working in the community here.” 

“They do it all and they do it with grace and kindness,” Johnson explained to the city council Tuesday evening. “The trust story of what they do really goes behind the scenes a lot deeper than what we know. As part of their service to others, they endure incredible levels of stress during dynamic incidents. If you have ever been in the communication center when we have three grass fires, a traffic accident, a domestic violence incident, and a couple of other 9-1-1 calls ringing off the hook all at the same time. It would make most ordinary folks lose their mind. How they keep track of all of those things and maintain their sanity and still provide services is completely beyond me. They are good at what they do,” the chief explained. “They share in the really, really heavy burdens of loss, grief and sadness as they help people on the phone who are suffering through some of the most traumatic and awful experiences that you could imagine. Those experiences don’t go away when you hang up the phone. They carry those experiences with them for the rest of their lives.  They worry endlessly about the first responders they serve and the community that the serve. Everything they do is about keeping people safe.”