Do My Job: Sit in the hot seat with 911 dispatchers
Posted May 15, 2008
Raleigh, N.C. — As part of her weeklong “Do My Job” series, WRAL reporter Kim Dean was invited to sit in the hot seat with 911 call-takers and radio dispatchers – "telecommunicators" – in Wake County.
It can be a high-pressure job in which seconds count. At times, it's life or death for the people on the other end of the line.
Raleigh-Wake Emergency Communications operators answered nearly 900,000 calls last year.
For her story, Dean was issued a uniform shirt and a headset and invited to listen in on some calls. Beside her was Training Supervisor Angie Schulz.
“911, what's the location of your emergency?” Schulz asked a caller as Dean listened and watched.
“My heart is palpitating,” the caller responded.
The caller sounded barely conscious and had apparently overdosed on drugs.
Schulz dispatched help and talked to the caller until emergency workers could arrive. Seconds later, she answered a call about a girl being harassed by a bully.
“So he tried to open the door and come in the house?” Schulz asked.
The job requires multi-tasking in a way that few people will ever know.
“We have folks that get very overwhelmed in training,” Schulz said.
Taking calls isn’t the only part of the job. When assigned to radio work, dispatchers send calls to sheriff's deputies, Raleigh police and fire and emergency medical agencies, too. During Dean’s visit, Raleigh police were called to help a security guard who was chasing a suspect on foot.
“They are in foot pursuit with a black male in a flannel shirt, khaki pants. They’re running up Clark towards Oberlin,” Schulz said.
She then asked Dean to give the job a try – on a non-emergency call involving a fender bender with no injuries. Dean dispatched the police unit.
“(A) 2005 burgundy Toyota Camry and a gray Avalanche,” Dean said into the microphone, as Schulz smiled and gave a thumbs up.
Despite the drama that can be on the other end of the line, Schulz said her job is fun.
“It's probably the only profession in the world where you can actually tell an officer where he can go,” she laughed.
Raleigh-Wake 911 telecommunicators are trained for three months, followed by six to nine months of probationary status – meaning a supervisor is beside them during every call. About one in 20 applicants is hired.
Friday, on WRAL’s Morning News at 6, Dean goes behind the wall with the man who runs the manual scoreboard at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.