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A Day in the Life of a 911 Dispatcher

By Lauren Mckinnon

“911, where is your emergency?”

Shift Sgt. Amanda Campbell, a 12 year veteran takes calls. Photo by Lauren Mckinnon

For many people, these are the first words they hear after tragedy strikes. These words are a link to a lifeline. When callers hear the dispatcher’s voice, they make an instant connection. The faceless person on the other end of the line will be the one to send them the help they need. The dispatcher will be their confidant, the calm in their own personal storm.

Dispatchers are much more than call takers. They talk to people they’ve never met and hold their hands through the worst moments of their lives. It is human nature to panic in those moments, but dispatchers are trained to not only remain calm, but to keep the caller calm too.

This job is not for the faint of heart. It requires an ability to think clearly in stressful and ever-changing situations, make quick and safe decisions, and act in a timely manner so that help arrives promptly. People’s lives depend on the accuracy and speed of a dispatcher.

“The women who do this job are a special blend of compassionate and tough,” said Amanda Campbell, Colleton County Dispatch Shift Sergeant.

“We have to be able to hear the most horrible things that happen to people, then go home and put on a smile, not let it affect our lives with our families and friends outside of work. Doing all that while making sure each officer, medic and firefighter goes home to their families. We are all family: dispatchers, law enforcement, and fire-rescue. It may be tough, but I couldn’t see myself doing a job that is the same every day. I like not knowing what’s going to happen. No two days are the same. “

Dispatchers are the unsung heroes of civil service. People often recognize the men and women on the front lines of public safety who come in uniforms to fight fires, apprehend criminals, and give medical attention to the sick and injured. Oftentimes, dispatchers go home never knowing if the woman who called this afternoon with chest pains is okay, if the family whose house was burning was able to retrieve their beloved pet, or if the man whose home was broken into was able to recover his irreplaceable family heirloom.

In Colleton County, dispatchers work 12 hours a day, five days a week. They are responsible not only for answering all fire-rescue and law enforcement calls, but also for fielding administrative calls for the Colleton County Sheriff’s office after regular business hours. At any one time, a dispatcher may be communicating with a person on the phone, a deputy in the field, a medic unit on a call, as well as looking up histories, addresses, driving records and warrants to assist the people on the other end of the radio. Not only are dispatchers responsible for keeping their callers safe and calm, they are also responsible for keeping track of where the deputies, detectives, fire-rescue workers, and other emergency service personnel are, if they need assistance and if they are safe.

“Our job isn’t easy but it’s worth it – helping the community in their time of emergency,” said Morgan Blocker, Colleton County 911 Dispatch

The ladies of Colleton County Dispatch work closely together for long hours and through very stressful situations.

“We’re like a big family,” said Courtney Stevenson, Colleton County 911 Dispatcher.

During the moments when the phone isn’t ringing, the ladies often laugh, confide in each other, share recipes or the daily gossip, much like sisters do. In a job where they hear other people’s pain so frequently, they are each other’s support system. Only they can understand the ups and downs, the tragedies and triumphs of being a 911 dispatcher.

There have been many changes over the past year in Colleton County dispatch: upgraded radio technology, new hires, and even now sharing office space and working with Walterboro Public Safety dispatch.

“I love that we get to help people,” said Shatoya Gray, Walterboro Public Safety Dispatch.

Gray and the other Walterboro dispatchers are a welcome addition to the facility. Since they have merged into one office, the dispatchers have adjusted and learned how to work hand in hand, making it a smooth transition.

“It just means our ‘family’ is growing,” said Campbell.

“It also means that we are saving time and avoiding potential delays because we no longer have to put callers on hold to transfer them to a separate dispatch center.” Also, not being alone allows them to have assistance when call volume is up.

Editor’s Note:

 “A day in the life,” is an ongoing series that we will have this year focusing on individual positions within our City and County government, giving you a more in-depth look into various jobs in our community.

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