County dispatchers send help and hope to callers
“Marion County 911, what is the location of your emergency?” is what someone hears when they dial 911.
This prerecorded message begins a complex series of actions for the two dispatchers on duty.
The dispatcher is on the phone line and can hear responses before they begin the call.
“A lot of times, the person is already talking when they call,” lead dispatcher Chelsea Weber said. “We’re able to listen from the very beginning since we don’t have to say the greeting.”
Dispatchers don’t need a college degree for employment.
After being hired, they complete on-the-job training.
“All the dispatchers must take a communication class, then have at least 400 hours of supervised work before getting their emergency training,” communications administrator Linda Klenda said.
Dispatchers are medically trained to be emergency medical dispatchers, much like emergency medical services personnel.
“We receive training that helps us ask the right questions to get the right help on the way and to figure out what the situation is,” Weber said.
The three-day intensive EMD training allows them to learn medical protocols, give medical advice, and provide CPR instructions, as well as questions to ask to understand what is needed.
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Medical director Don Hudson review the EMD card set and signs off that it’s the correct treatment.
Klenda said the most common misconception from the public is that when a dispatcher asks questions, it delays help from coming.
A dispatcher must ask questions to understand and get a mental picture of what is going on and what is needed.
“We understand this is probably their worst day but we’re trained to handle these types of calls,” she said. “Please be patient and know help is on the way.”
“We don’t see what’s going on or know how any calls turn out,” Weber said. “There is no closure for dispatchers unless someone happens to come in and tell us. We wonder what happened.”
Although dispatchers aren’t at the scene like first responders, they still feel the effects of the incident.
“We’re people too. The pain, suffering, screams — everything we hear come through our headset stays with us,” Weber said. “We remember it. We feel what they are feeling. Just because we are on the phone doesn’t mean we don’t emphasize, don’t feel their pain.”
If a caller is using a landline, computer software identifies the address, telephone number, and name.
If a call comes in from a cell phone, it collects the number and is able to pinpoint the location within 50 feet.
“The software tells the nearest address, which fire department and law enforcement is closest,” dispatcher Savannah Hicks said.
A new feature available for Marion County residents is the ability to text 911. If texting, the caller would go through the same steps as a live call.
“It’s best to call 911 but if you can’t for some reason, you can text us,” Klenda said.
Marion County dispatch provides emergency services for five police departments, 13 fire departments, five ambulances, and five first responders.
If a call involves an injury accident, EMS, law enforcement and fire are all dispatched. Only police are sent to non-injury accidents.
The unit also has a working relationship with Kansas Highway Patrol, Army Corps of Engineers, Wildlife and Parks personnel, and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad.
If a caller misdials 911, Klenda encourages them not to hang up.
“Stay on the line and let us know it’s a misdial,” she said.