Photo Information

Amber Penland, 911 dispatcher, Security Emergency Services, poses for a photo during National Public Safety Telecommunicator Week on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, April 9, 2024. During the month of April, National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week is held to honor personnel in the public safety sector for their dedicated service to the community. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jennifer E. Douds)

Photo by Cpl. Jennifer E. Reyes

The First, First Responders: National Public Safety Telecommunicator Appreciation Week 2024

22 Apr 2024 | Cpl. Jennifer E. Reyes Marine Corps Installations East

During the month of April, National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week is held to honor personnel in the public safety community for their dedicated service to our communities within Marine Corps Base (MCB) Camp Lejeune, Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) New River, Stone Bay Rifle Range, Marine Forces Special Operations Command, and the Greater Sandy Run Area. Oftentimes, these unsung heroes are overlooked when it comes to the vital role that they play in emergency services as a whole. Becoming aware of, and understanding their jobs, is a step towards appreciating these “Angels on Airwaves.”

Telecommunicators answer 911 and non-emergency calls, providing the verbal first responder assistance to the caller. They assist citizens every single day, at all hours, by guiding those in need through situations such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation, the Heimlich maneuver, delivering a baby, escaping a drowning vehicle and more, all while remaining professional, calm, and courteous.

“We are the voice that people turn to in their worst moment,” said Amber Joesting, a 911 dispatcher, Security Emergency Services. “We listen to our caller’s screams, cries, questions, fears, but also the sounds of assurance, relief, and sometimes thanks.”

Another major aspect of their jobs is being trained in call interrogation techniques to obtain important information for crimes in progress, fires, and medical emergencies. They are able to maintain a composed demeanor while dealing with distraught callers during high-risk situations. Gathering this information paves the way for first responders before they step foot on the scene.

When asked what the “one thing” she wished callers knew about her and her teams’ job, Christine Whaley, a supervisory 911 dispatcher with Security Emergency Services and the Public Safety Shift Supervisor Award recipient, stated, “There is a reason we are asking the questions we do. The questions ensure the right resources are being sent and better prepares the units for what they are walking into.” Whaley also emphasized that the questions being asked help telecommunicators know how to aid the caller before assistance arrives and do not slow down the units responding to the call, as these things happen simultaneously.

It can be easy to forget that these anonymous voices on the phone are also daughters, sons, mothers, fathers, and friends outside of the 911 center. In their caring nature, a lot of these telecommunicators are affected by the calls and cases that they receive. While they seldom get the closure to the emergency calls, they continue to worry about the community and the units they send out even after the call.

“We experience adrenaline rushes several times during a shift, during high-stress situations,” explained Lisa Moran, a supervisory 911 dispatcher with Security Emergency Services. “Law enforcement, firefighters, and paramedics are able to physically release cortisol by utilizing the benefit of being hands-on. 911 professionals don’t have that benefit; therefore, we are left with a heightened mental state while sitting in a seat, ready to take the next call.”

Through the support of family and their peers, the “Headset Heroes” are able to cope with some of the tough calls they experience while on the job. Hobbies, working out, and practicing being in the moment are other ways dispatchers relieve their stress.

“There are calls we will never forget no matter how hard we try,” stated Moran. “One thing is for sure; we will continue to show up for our responders and our communities because we are fulfilling our purpose to help those in need.”

A common trend amongst telecommunicators is their innate sense for helping others. These selfless men and women perform more than just a secretarial or administrative position. Instead, they engage in a never ending, vigorous cycle of unpredictable stressful situations providing immediate access to emergency services 24-hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, ensuring the safety of the communities they serve.

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