911 dispatchers: The unsung heroes of emergency response

The wrath of Superstorm Sandy brought the heroic work of many Greenwich first responders to the forefront, but it is the town’s public safety dispatchers (PSDs) who often go unrecognized when emergency strikes.

“911, where is your emergency?” They’re simple words, but they were the first to offer hope to many residents in distress during the storm, and the anonymous voice behind them has frequently been an overlooked part of Greenwich’s emergency services, according to Lt. John Brown, an officer in the Police Department’s Operations Division.

The 15 men and women who currently serve the town as PSDs work as civilian employees under the Police Department and come from a variety of backgrounds, but all have experience in one area — helping others. Their service expertise is essential, as the town uses a combined dispatcher center, meaning the dispatchers who operate the center handle all emergency calls for police, fire and Emergency Medical Services (EMS).

Last year alone, dispatchers handled approximately 4,200 fire calls, 40,000 police calls and 6,100 EMS calls, but as Sandy approached the region on Oct. 29, PSDs saw their volume of calls skyrocket in a matter of hours.

In fact, PSDs “worked through the most difficult and demanding 911 calls I’ve seen in my 29 years with the Greenwich Police Department,” Lt. Brown told the Post.

Lead dispatcher Cliff Yasek agreed, saying, “The volume of calls was the most I’ve ever seen as a dispatcher since 1988.”

At 9 a.m. on Oct. 29, before the storm had even struck, the Dispatch Center was already receiving three times the normal volume of 911 and non-emergency phone calls, and between 3 and 6 p.m. the 911 calls were coming in at a rate of roughly three per minute, or 180 per hour.

Between 6 and 9 that evening, as Sandy began to take her toll, calls were coming in at a staggering six to seven calls per minute, or 360 calls per hour, and each one was a true emergency, Lt. Brown explained. PSDs were unable to answer non-emergency phone lines at the time because as soon as they hung up from one 911 call, two more were waiting in its place. The frenzy went on for nearly 16 hours, he said.

And while the calls abated overnight, by Tuesday morning residents were awakened to significant storm damage and 911 calls were back up to 60 to 100 per hour as the day progressed.

According to Lt. Brown, each of those calls had to be prioritized appropriately and services dispatched, all while dispatchers continued answering calls for help and monitoring the emergency radio traffic.

Those calling for assistance reported everything from trees fallen across roads, cars, houses, and wires to road and house flooding, structure fires, need for medical assistance, requests to check the welfare of family members or neighbors, gas leaks, and a variety of other hazardous conditions.

PSDs were a critical component in dispatching workers and equipment to where they were needed, including routing emergency responders and utility crews around closed roads, while maintaining communications with all responders, Lt. Brown said.

In addition to running the Dispatch Center, he added, one PSD was assigned to the town’s Emergency Operations Center, where the individual was responsible for maintaining a tree, wire, and closed road list. The list grew to almost 700 entries while the PSD fielded numerous calls from the public, and assisted CL&P and other town agencies with the latest information.

Another dispatcher had the task of working with CL&P crews to free an ambulance that had a patient on board, along with two police cars that were trapped by falling trees and downed live power lines.

“If the town’s emergency services were viewed as a computer, the Public Safety Combined Dispatch Center would be the main processor,” Lt. Brown said.

Describing the deep pride he has in the town’s PSDs, Lt. Brown said, “Their professionalism reassured and calmed many a caller who, during a time of need knew, if they called 911, someone would answer and help would be on their way. These men and women are the unseen and unsung heroes of emergency services and we all owe them a thank you and job well done.”


[email protected]

By participating in the comments section of this site you are agreeing to our Privacy Policy and User Agreement

© Hersam Acorn. All rights reserved. The Greenwich Post, 10 Corbin Drive, Floor 3, Darien, CT 06820

Designed by WPSHOWER

Powered by WordPress