By CAT SMITH
MOHAVE COUNTY—When someone dials 911 for help, the first person they make contact with on the other line is an emergency dispatcher.
This week, law enforcement agencies across the nation observed the dedicated individuals behind the scenes, including agencies within Mohave County.
Data shows in 2017, Mohave County 911 dispatch centers received 373,298 calls of service.
- Bullhead City Police – 73,741
- Mohave County Sheriff’s Office – 166,141
- Kingman Police Department – 133,416 of which 56,094 were calls for service.
At each dispatch call center, dispatchers are assigned specific locations to handle when calls come in. They also work with assigned patrol officers when they are assigned a certain beat for their shifts.
For Bullhead City, there are four shifts in a twenty-four hour period in which a minimum of three dispatchers are assigned.
“Their duties include receiving calls, the police radio, and dispatching services for fire and medical calls,” said Bullhead City Police Department’s Support Services Manager Bradley Oliver, who oversees the dispatch center.
Olivier said the duties of the 12 current dispatchers assigned to the center include entering persons, property, clearing and validating information such as missing persons, wants/warrants, vehicles, license plates and vehicle/boat parts into the state and national computer system.
“The 911 Communications Center is slotted for 15 dispatchers, but we currently have 12 and just finished interviewing for three candidates to enter the dispatch training,” said Oliver.
Oliver said the longest working dispatcher for Bullhead City is Josie Volk-Emmert, who has been with the dispatch center for 24 years.
Dispatchers assigned to the Bullhead City 911 Communications Center oversees a variety of calls for the police department, fire department, Fort Mojave Mesa Fire Department, Mohave Valley Fire Department, Golden Shores Fire Department and Oatman Fire Department.
“To the dedicated women and men of the Bullhead City Bureau of 9-1-1 Communications who serve as the first responders answering calls for help day in and day out, I want to thank you for the role you have in our communities helping others and saving lives,” said Oliver. “You are the hero behind the scenes every minute—every day.”
For the Kingman Police Department, there are 16 dispatchers employed to their call center.
“Our responsibilities for police radio dispatching are rotated each shift,” said Kingman Fire Chief Jake Rhoades. “Dispatchers and KPD patrol officers change shifts every eight weeks, so in essence the two teams/shifts work together for an eight week period of time.”
Their longest dispatch employee is Communications Director Amy Kennedy, who has been with Kingman Police/Fire since 2011. Rhoades said the fire department handles the dispatch center for the City of Kingman Police agency.
However, it is the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office, which is considered the second largest county in Arizona that covers the most territory with five districts.
“The districts are split amongst the dispatchers based on how many are working,” said Mohave County Sheriff Public Safety Senior Dispatcher Valerie Lester. “We have 16 dispatchers–with one being a volunteer–and can have two dispatchers in here at a time or up to six. Each dispatcher works both the radios for the districts they are assigned to and the 911/non-emergency phone lines.”
Lester said Public Safety Communications Supervisor Jody Schanaman, who has been in charge of the call center since 2000, recognizes her team each year during this time, but this year she switched it up a bit and the dispatch center has gone “all out by celebrating one another throughout the week.”
But, we all know the calls they can receive from callers on the other end can be heartbreaking, adrenaline pumping and overall nerve-wracking for dispatchers.
It is why emergency dispatch center’s in Mohave County provides Critical Incident Stress Management counseling for dispatchers—and first responders—when involved in a major incident.
The Mohave County Sheriff’s Office allocates six to twelve free counseling visits per critical incident, said Lester.
The emergency call number 9-1-1 was established nationwide in 1968 with the very first 911 call made by Senator Rankin Fite on February 16, 1968 in Haleyville, Ala. But, it wasn’t until 1991 that Congress designated the second week of April as National Public Safety Telecommunications week to recognize all emergency dispatch personnel.