Stresses of being a 911 dispatcher

Published: Dec. 5, 2019 at 6:32 PM CST
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Dispatchers have a long list of responsibilities.They multi-task several emergency and non-emergency calls. And also keep a streamline of conversation open with agencies.

The job can take a toll on them, even if they knew what it entailed when they chose the career path.

911 is a three digit phone number that's programmed in our minds at a young age.

In an emergency, first responders run toward threats while others run from it.

Dispatchers sit in a room coordinating it all and often times feel like their hands are tied when they can't do anything except for wait for the responders to arrive.

A job not cut out for everyone.

"I want to jump in there and be able to do more. It's kind of frustrating that you can't," said Central Dakota Communications Supervisor Tom Tkach.

Playing a waiting game and helping keep victims calm.

"An abuser was breaking down the door and you know we sent help immediately but unfortunately it was a bad outcome. I actually listened to somebody get killed over the phone," said Tkach.

That happened several years ago and he says it's a call that will always stay with him.

They go from call to call often times not having time to fully digest the previous one.

"I just put myself in a mindset when I'm here and when I leave I don't take it home with me. Obviously some stuff is going to stick," said CenCom Communications Specialist Logan Leingang.

Dispatchers are a lifeline.

"They actually went into the building and I was listening to them on the radio they were trying to clear the building out and you could hear the smoke. You know... and they can be in trouble too," said CenCom dispatcher Erik Moe.

Moe says the biggest call of his eight-year career came this summer during the apartment fire in Mandan.

When the call ends and it doesn't make it on the news, dispatchers can be left wondering what happened even if they try to stay unattached.

"It could eat at you," said Leingang.

The team at CenCom says some days are harder than others.

"You're not in this alone. Sometimes it may seem like it but you're not. You've got help from every dispatcher in the room that is willing to assist if they know you're dealing with one of them type of calls," said Leingang.

Having each other backs while at the same time keeping an eye out for the next call.

Supervisors at CenCom say they do keep track of their employees and tap them out of their console if they look distressed.

They also offer an employee assistance program and if needed can request a chaplain.

Dispatchers say keeping focus on safe guarding the community helps keep everything else in line for them emotionally.