'We're in it together,' dispatcher says during National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week
They may remember the voice, but they may never know the face.
Community members around the world rely on the voice behind a 9-1-1 call every time they pick up the phone to dial for an emergency.
Dispatchers on the other end of the 9-1-1 call are a vital piece of the puzzle that could save a person's life, either a community member or an emergency serviceman or woman, in a matter of moments.
During National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week April 14-20, dispatchers are thanked for their service.
But one local dispatcher, Wendy Fleury, wants people to thank not only dispatchers but also law enforcement, Emergency Medical Services and firefighters for their service that saves lives.
As a special personal addition to her job's requirements, Fleury doesn't always respond to officers with 10-4 at the end of a service call, which means the job has been completed and officers are back in order.
She will say "thank you" instead.
"Just the words 'thank you' means so much. Whether it's during telecommunicators week or at the end of a call. That means a lot," Fleury said.
Fleury, who has been with the Pierce County Sheriff's Dispatch Center for just six months, understands the weight her position holds in the process of emergency response.
"You have to care or this job is just not for you," Fleury said.
Fleury spent a decade publicizing critical information for television stations across Green Bay as a news reporter. One moment she would be telling a light, feel-good story and the next she would be called to a homicide.
After transplanting to the River Falls area because of her husband's job opportunity, Fleury said she was drawn to the dispatch position because it was as equally adrenaline-pumping as TV news reporting.
"Just like TV news, dispatching is non-stop. Every second is different," Fleury said.
Her experience in communications and having built a solid relationship with Green Bay law enforcement gave her the right people skills to handle the training and responsibilities of dispatching.
"(Dispatchers) gain the confidence and the trust of not only the community but our officers as well by getting them the critical information. And them knowing that 'hey buddy, I got your back,' it's tough to do that," Fleury said.
Being a dispatcher requires patience, alertness and the ability to prioritize.
Because dispatching happens around the clock, two people are always at the ready in the office. Those working during their shift do not leave their station. Meal breaks are taken in their seats and bathroom breaks can't last long.
"Sometimes it gets overwhelming," Fleury said. "Especially when there is so much coming at you at once and you have to prioritize. Who needs you the most at this moment?"
Fleury said she knows to treat every call as important. Many people call in each week accidentally and some calls demand quicker attention or have a more pressing priority than others.
"To those people, calling us is important to them. If they didn't think it was they wouldn't pick up and call us," Fleury said. "Maybe it doesn't seem like an emergency but you have to give them the time of day to listen to what you think is their emergency."
With every call Fleury takes, she said the things she has heard while working as a dispatcher inspires her to have more empathy for those around her.
"All I want to do is just hug my daughter even harder, tell her I love her more often," Fleury said.
During this week, Fleury said she wants the public to not only recognize the people whose voices can save them on the other end of a 9-1-1 call but to also be thankful for the public safety servicemen and women out on the streets.
"It takes all of us to make this work. It takes the community, the dispatchers and it takes police, fire and EMS. If we all work together we'll get people the help they need," Fleury said.
The Pierce County Sheriff's Office lists a few suggestions for those who do or should call 9-1-1:
• Remain calm
• If possible, call from a room where you can see what is going on.
• Be sure to tell the dispatcher exactly what is happening. Be as specific and descriptive as possible, paying attention to suspect/s (how many, race, age, clothing, height, weight, hair) and vehicles (car, truck, bicycle, color, license plate, location).
• Let the dispatcher ask the questions in the order he/she needs the information.
• Stay on the phone and answer the dispatcher's questions. Your information may be simultaneously broadcast to responding officers. (The dispatcher types your information into a terminal while you talk.)
• Be patient. Calls are handled by priority, with life threatening and in-progress calls given top priority.
• Report crimes and suspicious incidents as soon as you become aware of them.
• "When in doubt, call us out!"