EVANSTON — Designated during the second week of April, National Public Safety Telecommunications Week celebrates dispatchers throughout the U.S., to thank and honor those who dedicate their lives to public service and to create an awareness of their hard work and dedication. The observance began in 1981 and was initiated by Patricia Anderson of the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office in California.
The Uinta County dispatchers are recognized and celebrated during this week. Their job requires balancing their personal lives with the stress of rotating shift work and being the first responders to emergency calls.
Dispatcher supervisor Debbie Whitaker has been employed by the Uinta County Sheriff’s Office since January of 1995. She earned the position of supervisor in March of 2020. Whitaker now works mainly the day shift Monday through Friday. However, she often fills in on other shifts when needed. Her responsibilities include supervision of 11 dispatchers, training, writing manuals, scheduling and coordinating with the other emergency and law enforcement agencies within the county.
“What I like best about my job is that it is always different,” Whitaker said. “I used to work in a grocery store, and the work was repetitive and became monotonous. Every call that comes in to dispatch is different, and we are the first link in determining the proper response. The information that the dispatcher takes from the call is critical to helping the officer know what they are going to be faced with. I love the problem solving that comes with the job.”
Whitaker began her career as a dispatcher in Kanab, Utah, in 1991. She was a single mom and homeschooled her children. She said the hardest part of the job then was the shift work and missing family events and children’s activities.
“The worse part of the job now is the hard calls,” she said. “Those are the calls you get that you just sense the minute you answer, it will have a bad or sad outcome. I worry about the caller or their family and the officers responding. But if I have done my job efficiently, then I feel a sense of accomplishment in that I have helped someone.”
Whitaker said the technical advancements that have been made make the dispatcher’s job easier and more efficient. The new system allows the dispatcher to take and answer calls with an earpiece, which frees up their hands for typing. Previously, they had to answer and hold a phone with one hand while trying to type information at the same time with the other hand. She said they will soon have a new radio system and console that will provide even more control and efficiency.
Dispatchers answer calls for the Uinta County Sheriff’s Office; the Evanston, Mountain View and Lyman police departments; and the Evanston and Bridger Valley fire and ambulance departments. They also receive 911 calls for the Wyoming Highway Patrol and transfer those to the state dispatch center. The kinds of calls they receive vary from VIN inspections and dog problems to more serious situations such as domestic violence calls and and traffic accidents.
The Uinta County dispatch main office is located at the jail; however, they have another emergency center in the basement of the courthouse that they use at least once a month. This keeps the emergency center in good working order and allows the dispatcher to become familiar and comfortable in both environments. They also have a mobile command unit in a trailer, which can be used for major emergencies such as a large fire, a missing person in the wilderness and for emergency preparedness at the annual Fort Bridger Mountain Man Rendezvous. The mobile unit is shared with the fire department and with emergency medical crews.
“The next 911 generation will see everything done on video camera, and that will be even safer,” Whitaker said.
In May, Shelby Berg will have served as a dispatcher for seven years. She is a senior dispatcher on her crew and a field training officer for new dispatchers. Berg said she likes the rotating shift work as she enjoys the change of pace it provides. She said the toughest part is the first week of changing hours.
Berg said she usually works with one other dispatcher except on Friday when there are three on shift. She agreed with Whitaker in that she likes that dispatching offers something different every day.
“I really like that all 11 dispatchers become like a family and work as a team no matter what shift we are on,” Berg said. “We rotate crew members so we get to know each other. The people who are hired are outstanding. I truly love my job and will be a lifer dispatcher. I love the satisfaction that comes from helping people.”
Berg said the requirements for the job are a high school diploma or equivalent and interviewees are tested for multi-tasking efficiency, typing and computer skills, and they must be reliable and recognize that they will be handling confidential information. The new dispatcher goes through 14 to 16 weeks of training, learning the programs, the 10-codes, and the national database.
Within the first year of their employment, they must go to the Police Academy in Douglas for two weeks of training. The first year on the job is a probationary period. In the second year of employment, the dispatcher also receives training in emergency medical dispatching (EMD). Dispatchers often have to instruct a caller in providing CPR while waiting for emergency medical teams to arrive.
“Wyoming has the honor of being the first state in the U.S. to classify dispatchers as law enforcement personnel,” Berg said.
Spring Jaggi, at 20 years old, is the youngest local dispatcher. She was hired immediately after graduating from Lyman High School two years ago. She also said she really likes the fact that every day at work is different and she really enjoys making a difference in people’s lives. Jaggi said the crew she works with makes the job fun and enjoyable.
Her responsibilities include answering calls and recording the information from certain calls and recordings onto a flash drive to be used for investigative purposes, along with checking outstanding warrants for accuracy.
Jaggi said shift work is not a problem; however, she does miss out on some family activities at times and some holidays. She lives in Evanston and has family in Lyman.
“I really like the new phone system even though it has taken some time to get used to the ear piece,” Jaggi said. “The hardest part of the job for me is that there is a lot of pressure and it is fast-paced. It is important to not make mistakes when getting the information from the caller. It is tough when it is a sad or dangerous situation for the caller or for the officers responding.”
Jaggi said the busiest and most exciting shift is from 4 p.m. to midnight. “You never know what is going to happen,” she said.
Jaggi said some of the law enforcement officers have told her they couldn’t do what she does, and she has said to them that she couldn’t do what they do. Jaggi said the officers are all very respectful and show their appreciation for the dispatchers.
“We get quite a few suicide calls, and those are tough,” Jaggi said. “We have to keep the caller talking and, at the same time, send officers and an ambulance.”
When Jaggi was first hired, she said she expected something entirely different and worried that she wouldn’t be able to do all of the multi-tasking required. But once she began to see herself improving and making a difference for the callers, she said she began to love the job and would like to keep it for a long time.
“The thank-you from callers and officers and knowing that I’m helping people, and just feeling the weight lift off of their shoulders when they get help, is the most rewarding part of the job as dispatcher,” Jaggi said.