On worst days, 911 call takers are there
By LIZ THOMPSON
February 23, 2020
This Week News
“Imagine being there for everyone’s worst day, every day. The reward is absolutely knowing you made a difference with each shift.”
These words from Johnna Sells, Franklin County (Ohio) 911 coordinator, tell us what telecommunicators deal with on every shift they work.
Never was I more thankful for the ability to dial those three short numbers to get help than I was 15 years ago, after I went careening backward down my basement steps onto concrete.
Those three numbers connected me with a calm voice that asked me, “Where is your emergency?”
Within minutes, several EMTs were coming in my back door, per my instructions.
I have always wondered about the calm voices at the other end of my calls.
These people are called dispatchers, communications technicians, public-safety telecommunicators or call takers.
The most important name is first responders.
They are the first people we talk to – those who are extensively trained to sort quickly through our emergency and send the correct help our way.
“There is so much more that is expected from our telecommunicators than ever before,” Sells said. “With the constant addition of new and better technology, the job is constantly evolving. The job is anything but stagnant.”
Training is detailed so telecommunicators can triage the diverse situations to get the proper response started.
Dublin, Grove City, Hilliard and Upper Arlington provide Smart911.
Smart911 allows individuals to provide additional personal information on their households, such as names, ages, health issues and pets, for the telecommunicators.
“It is different because it goes beyond the basics provided by a phone company,” Sells said.
When people call 911, they could be panicking, or for other reasons not able to provide all the information needed for the best response.
“Smart911 is a good financial investment for a community to make,” Sells said.
In 1968, the first 911 call was made in the United States. Now, 96% of the United States is covered by some level of 911 service. 911 was established in 1983 in Ohio. Franklin County implemented the services in 1987.
If you need to call 911, the most important information you can give is your location.
“You can give the entire rundown of the bad thing that is happening, but the bottom line is that we cannot help you if we don’t know where you are,” Sells said.
“Rest assured, once we know where you are and what the type of emergency that is occurring, we have started a response,” she said. “If we are still asking questions, it’s because we need additional information to pass to the responders so they can better prepare before they arrive on (the) scene.”
Telecommunicators always are in demand, Sells said.
“It’s hard work, and, traditionally, it comes with long hours, at all hours of the day and night,” she said.
Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and weekends are included, so it is not for everyone.
“We look for people who want to serve their community and work in the public-safety field,” Sells said. “There has to be some passion for the industry to keep someone engaged and dedicated, but we also need people who are empathetic and can talk someone down when they are reaching out for help.”
Telecommunicators are multitaskers. They must be people who can talk, type, anticipate the needs of their responders and keep a steady voice through it all. They put the pieces together for their responders and for their community.
Sells was a telecommunicator for 15 years and said, “They are the first to learn about the emergency, now with growing video technology, sometimes even first eyes on (the) scene, they are the link between the public and the help they need.
“Telecommunicators should be held to the same high standards that police and fire have to meet and maintain, and they should in return be given the same recognition as those they work alongside,” she said.
Thank you all for being there in sometimes our darkest hours.
Call Franklin County’s human-resources line at 614-525-3397 if you want to know more about becoming a telecommunicator.