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911 dispatchers key link in emergency response

In case of emergency, dial 911.

Most people don’t think about what happens between the time theyhang up the phone and the time the law enforcement officials,firefighters or ambulance get there. But there is an importantbridge between those with emergencies and those who respond.

911 dispatchers might be the most unsung of those in thebusiness of emergency response. But the men and women at thedispatch office in Lincoln County say they’re just glad tohelp.

“To me the most important thing is knowing I’m helping thecommunity, and helping save lives,” said dispatcher Jessica Boone,who has been with the sheriff’s department for just over three anda half years.

Across the desk from Boone, Amy Stockton agreed.

“We’re helping people every day,” she said. “That’s a greatfeeling.”

Patricia Richardson, a dispatcher in training, said whilelearning all the different computer systems can be challenging,part of what keeps the job interesting is variety.

“We get so many different variations of calls,” she said.

Lincoln County currently employs six full-time dispatchers whowork 12-hour shifts, one part-time, and a dispatch supervisor. Ifthings get busy or someone can’t come in, sometimes they findthemselves working 18 or more hours per shift, they said.

Boone said a must-have skill for a dispatcher is the ability tomulti-task.

There are at least three 911 lines, and dispatch often answersfor the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department, too. The dispatchermust be able to answer all calls and be able to patch them throughto the Sheriff’s Department, Brookhaven Police Department,neighboring law enforcement jurisdictions, King’s Daughters MedicalCenter, or Mississippi Highway Patrol, among others.

In case of fire, they must be able to page out Brookhaven FireDepartment or any of the county’s eight volunteer fire departments,then log the traffic as they go en route.

The logs are another story altogether, as there is one for thefire departments, one for the deputies’ activities, a 911 call log,and a log for wreckers when there are car accidents.

And all those things must be done while keeping the county undercontrol from behind the mirrored glass at the bottom of the LincolnCounty Jail.

Richardson said while learning the different logs anddispatching methods is hard, learning 10-codes has also been achallenge.

“All the computers are tough, and just knowing where to go andwhat to call up to get what you need,” she said. “And the 10-codes?Well, I’m still learning.”

Stockton admitted she’s the nervous one of the bunch, sayingthat once, early on in her tenure with the sheriff’s department,she’d called supervisor Vicki McKnight and told her she wasn’tgoing to make it.

“Sometimes the person on the other line is freaking out, andyou’re freaking out on the inside, and you’re saying, ‘Ma’am, justtry to calm down,'” she said. “But really you want to cry withthem. It gets easier as you’ve been here longer, though.”

Boone said every dispatcher’s reaction is different. She said intimes of crisis, she takes over and directs dispatch traffic.

“I get that adrenaline rush,” she said. “Then I tell Amy, ‘Youcall KDMC and I’ll get MHP en route,’ or whatever needs to bedone.”

Stockton said she and Boone have worked together long enoughthat when an emergency call comes in, they work together like thelong-time partners they are.

“You have to have someone be in control or you’re going to crossover each other and be doing the same things,” she said. “You haveto have good communication, and you have to be able to get alongwith the person you’re working with.”

Boone and Stockton rotate chores each day they work, with oneworking deputy detail and one working the 911 lines – just to keepthings interesting.

But sometimes things get interesting on their own. Boone said inthe case of a visible house fire or a bad accident, a dispatchermay be tested.

“You’re liable to get more than 20 calls in two to threeminutes,” Boone said. “You really have to be able toprioritize.”

And some of the calls are rather strange.

“We had a woman call us one time hysterical, and she was saying,’I just poisoned my boyfriend,'” Boone said.

After deputies and the ambulance were sent to the address thewoman gave, they found it didn’t exist. No claims of poisoning orillnesses that matched poisoning symptoms showed up through thenext few days.

“Nobody ever turned up,” Boone said. “It was just weird.”

And of course, there are always the prank calls to 911. Stocktonsaid when the call comes in from a landline where the address istraceable, a deputy might even be dispatched to warn whoever isplaying with the phone that it’s not a laughing matter.

“Usually it’s just kids playing,” she said. “But it doesn’t hurtfor a deputy to go see them in person.”