by Becky GINOS
BOUNTIFUL—Most people think of first responders as the men and women who show up in an emergency. But even before that, there is someone on the other end of that 911 call who gets emergency personnel to that door.
It’s National Telecommunications Week April 8 – 14 and local law enforcement would like to thank those people who help them do their job.
“They are the lifeline for officers and the community,” said Bountiful Police Lt. Dave Edwards. “They do an incredibly difficult job. They are truly the first responders, the one that gets the information and links you to help.”
Cheri Pickett is a lead dispatcher at the Bountiful Police Department and one of those lifelines. She has been with the department for 11 years. “You can go from a mom whose baby is not breathing to somebody whining about their garbage not being picked up,” she said. “We get a wide range of calls including people who have locked their keys in their car and are wondering why the police aren’t there yet.”
However, officer safety takes priority over what they do, said Pickett. “We need to get as much information as we can so they (officers) have a better idea of what they’re walking into.”
Pickett became a dispatcher 14 years ago. “I received on the job training,” she said. “Someone is with you all the time for about four to six months. We have to become certified in EMD (medical protocols) CPR and BCI (Bureau of Criminal Identification). It really takes about two years before you feel you can handle it.”
Not everyone can handle it though. “Part of the training process is putting them in situations and stressing them enough to see if they can continue to think and function,” said Pickett. “We are always continuing to train. Sometimes we may not sound as sympathetic but we have a checklist we have to go through to get the facts. The challenge is to make sure that we’re reassuring to the caller.”
Most of the time dispatchers don’t know the outcome of the calls they take. “Part of the stress is not getting closure but we have to move on to the next call,” said Pickett. “Sometimes we’ll check up over the course of time and our officers are good to come in and tell us the result.”
Although they don’t get a lot of positive calls, Pickett has had some rewarding moments. “I got a call from an 11-year-old girl whose grandpa was having a heart attack,” she recalled. “I gave her CPR instructions. She repeated everything I said to her grandma. Kids don’t panic like adults because they don’t understand the gravity of the situation. He was dead and they were able to bring him back.”
She’s also coached people through childbirth. “Then the baby is born and everything turns out good. That’s wonderful.”
Another time she received a call from a worksite where the man had cut his leg with a chainsaw. “He spoke zero English but I could sense it was something serious versus just panic,” said Pickett. “I had to find an interpreter and go through the process of trying to find him. Cell phones give a radius of the area depending on the phone and the towers. We got him life flighted and he did live.”
Pickett also serves as tactical dispatch for the SWAT team. “I worked in the command center at the Mueller Park Junior High shooting,” she said. “As SWAT members arrive I find out where the officers are and keep track of that. Negotiators are also communicating with us.”
“They deal with life and death every day – that’s all on their shoulders,” Edwards said. “I’m constantly impressed with the service they give the public. They listen to people in pain who are truly frightened and they’re that calm voice. It’s traumatic for them. They genuinely care. That caller becomes their friend.”
Letting it all go at the end of a shift can be hard, said Pickett. “Generally when people call it’s the worst day of their lives,” she said. “We’re part of that and it affects you.”