Nearly all emergency responses in Columbia County start with the dispatchers of the sheriff's office 911 Communications Center.
"This is where it all starts. It all starts with the 911 call," said sheriff's Lt. Sharif Chochol, who is the communications center supervisor.
The center last week recognized National Public Safety Telecommunications Week, nationally designated to honor 911 dispatchers.
The week is meant to thank dispatchers because public gratitude is not a common occurrence for these public servants.
"That is very rare," said Chochol. "Usually it is the deputy, or whoever is on the scene, that is getting that (gratitude)."
Dispatch shift supervisor Tiffany Usry considers herself an unsung hero. But she understands how important her job is.
A call comes in, and whoever answers the phone enters the information into the Computer Aided Dispatch software, which brings up a map of the address and sends the call information to the person designated to dispatch calls on the radio to responding deputies. Fire or medical calls are immediately transferred to the dispatchers for area fire departments or ambulance services.
The sheriff's office employs 20 full-time dispatchers, who work five- to 12-hour shifts alternating between four days on and four days off.
The 911 center is designed to allow supervisors and dispatchers to see and communicate with each other. Usry said the design works well.
"A lot of times, before you have even gotten the call in, my channel one (radio) operator will have it sent out for a better response time," Usry said.
However, there are times when she feels helpless because the assistance she's sent to a caller just can't get there fast enough.
Still, calm is key. Dispatchers staying calm keep callers calm until help arrives. And like a child, callers can sense panic, Usry said.
"It kind of makes the big situations, the big calls, a lot smoother and less stressful in here when it stays quiet," Usry said. "And the radio operator can concentrate a lot better. ... We call it controlled chaos."
Managing stress also is important for dispatchers, but leaving the job at the door is sometimes hard, Usry said.
"It is all you, you know, not taking it personal. You do what you've got to do," she said. "You try to make yourself numb, especially when you have children at home. You do have those calls involving children and stuff and it is hard because you can relate. ... There's been some rough ones."
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