National week recognizes emergency dispatchers
By CECILIA BROWN
Journal Staff Writer
MARQUETTE — When a crisis occurs, dispatchers are often the first line of contact for the person experiencing the emergency.
Every day, they deal with people who might be experiencing the worst day of their lives and assist them with getting the help they need.
“We have people that do some amazing things every day … People that work in dispatch are the first, first repsonders. They’re the ones that figure out what’s wrong and who needs to go,” said Kory Dykstra, communications supervisor of the Regional Communications Center at the Michigan State Police Negaunee Post.
National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, which is held annually the second week of April, seeks to recognize emergency dispatchers for their dedication to helping the public.
“We’re here … in appreciation of emergency dispatchers and what they do, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” said Capt. John Halpin, MSP 8th District commander. “We have the utmost professionals here on staff, both on the county level and at the state level. They save lives every day, they help dispatch, obviously, police, emergency services, fire department and they help citizens when they’re in need and in the most dire straits.”
Emergency dispatchers, who work behind the scenes, work shifts as long as 16 hours and are likely to field many calls from people in significant distress during each shift.
“The dispatchers are usually behind the scenes, just a voice on the telephone or the radio, but they are human beings … and the emotions that come through the phone and the radio, they live with every day, and they have been trained to calm people down and work through situations, and they save lives everyday by doing that,” Halpin said.
Dispatchers from the Negaunee center answered over 20,000 emergency calls and over 83,000 non-emergency calls in 2017. The center acts as the primary 911 center for agencies in five Upper Peninsula counties, the MSP’s 8th District — which encompasses the entire U.P. — as well as the 5th District, which covers the southwest Lower Peninsula.
“We’re a little bit different from the other communications centers. Whereas most … are strictly for the state police or strictly taking incoming calls for the state police, we cover five counties as a primary 911 center,” said emergency dispatcher Jonathan Cieslinski, noting that they cover Baraga, Houghton, Keweenaw, Ontonagon and Schoolcraft counties.
The Regional Communications Center is one of two 911 call centers at the Michigan State Police Negaunee Post, as the Marquette County Central Dispatch is also housed there.
At both of these centers, dispatchers work to help people facing emergencies, frequently multi-tasking and problem-solving throughout their shifts, using a number of computer screens and communication methods.
“A lot of our job is multi-tasking,” Cieslinski said. “It’s not uncommon to be on the phone with somebody, talking through the radio to somebody else, (while) working on a warrant entry or doing a third project … Ninety-nine percent of the job here is knowing what’s going on and being able to prioritize.”
This year, the 911 number is celebrating its 50th anniversary, as it was initially established in 1968 to create a universal emergency number that people could call for assistance.
“Before (911), in Marquette County, for example, if you wanted to reach a police department, a fire department, an ambulance agency, there was no centralized number to call,” Cieslinski said. “You would either have to dial the operator, talk to the lady on other end of the phone who physically plugged that stuff in, or you would have to call that agency direct.”
Cieslinski said that before 911, a person’s confusion about the exact fire, police or emergency response agency that served their area could lead to confusion and delays.
“So there was the possibility that if your house was on fire, you might call the wrong place three or four times before you got the right department,” he said. “The goal is to centralize it with any easy-to-remember number, so you call, we get you help.”
The modern 911 service provides dispatchers with location information to help them quickly identify the agency that serves the area.
However, Cieslinski explained it’s still helpful to know your location or the location of the emergency for the dispatcher, especially if you’re not calling from a landline.
Landlines provide the most reliable and accurate location information for dispatchers, while cell phones can give dispatchers approximated locations and has the potential to be miles away from an actual location.
Beyond calling from a landline and knowing the location of an emergency, MSP offers additional ways the public can help dispatchers help them in an emergency:
≤ When calling 911, slow down and listen to the dispatcher. They are trained to ask specific questions to help determine the type and amount of help needed in a situation. Some are also trained as certified medical dispatchers and can provide medical instructions over the phone.
≤ If traveling, or doing recreational activities in unfamiliar territory, leave travel information with a trusted family member or friend, including when you are going, where you are staying, when you are staying there and when you should be back.
≤ When travelling, pay attention to mile markers on interstates. For secondary roads, pay attention to street names and intersections. This information can help you provide a more accurate location to a dispatcher if an emergency occurs.
≤ Make sure children know their address and how to get there from a young age, as knowing this information is critical in an emergency. It can be helpful to post the address of a residence near landline phones and/or on the fridge, in case children need to call for help.
≤ For short-term rental lodging, owners should prominently display the address of the property, utility information, their own contact information, as well as city and/or township information, in case of an emergency.
≤ Officials wish to emphasize that if a child is given an old cell phone to play with, make sure that the battery is removed, as even deactivated cell phones are capable of dialing 911, which can tie up emergency call lines.
Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is email@example.com.