Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year a 911 dispatcher is by the phone, ready to act when emergency strikes.
In the East Baton Rouge Parish dispatch center, 911 operators take 1,100 emergency calls each day, with five to six dispatchers on each 12 hour shift. Every operator here has basic EMT training, as well as six to nine additional months of dispatch training where they learn how to coordinate with law enforcement, fire departments and EMS. Dispatchers much also learn to deal with the wide range of scenarios that wait on the other side of a call.
"They provide pre-response first aid instructions or things like that. In many cases we've had many of our own employees talk people through having a baby and things like that," said EMS official Mike Chutz.
"Everyone you talk to, it's a life threat for them. It's the worst point in their life that they've ever had when they call 911," said dispatcher and paramedic Mitchell Ward.
Working 12 hour shifts, weekends and holidays can take its toll. After all, operators say they spend more time with their coworkers than their own family, and each one can share hours of stories both humorous and sad.
"Worst ones are any incidents with children," said Ward. "It's so emotional for not only the parents but everyone on the scene."
Ward says staying calm, quickly working to earn the caller's trust and getting them the help they need is the reward at the end of it all.
"Everybody who is in this field is here because they want to help somebody. They might not be able to be in the field for some reason, so we come in here so we can still be a part of helping people out," said Ward.
Since 1991, a week in April has been dedicated to the men and women who serve as public safety communicators.
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