The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Akasha Spino-Bybee

9-1-1- operators honored by governor


Akasha Spino-Bybee

ABOVE AND BEYOND: Dispatcher Vicky Ramsay checks her three screens for information.

Numerous people call 911 for assistance every day. Many of them meet the responders, but there are some people they rarely meet, the "unsung heroes" of emergency response, otherwise known as dispatchers, or 911 call takers. If it weren't for them-working 24 hours a day, 365 days a year-many people's lives would be in distress at any given moment.

"We work 12 hours a day," says Vicky Ramsay, dispatcher in Goldendale for 12 years and counting, "from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m." Fortunately, there are multiple dispatchers to take over for each other in the name of emergency response.

"We work year-round. Times when we are the busiest really depend on outside conditions and fluctuations in the temperature," says Robert Allen, operations manager of the facility. "10 a.m. to 12 p.m. is typically the busiest time of the day."

The critical work of dispatchers across the state is being honored by a proclamation by Gov. Jay Inslee declaring this week Public Safety Telecommunicators Week.

Considering the challenging circumstances of this position here in Klickitat County, one might wonder what inspired these valiant people to take it on. "I didn't really have a lot of knowledge about dispatching before I started," says Lisa George, dispatcher in Goldendale for 17 years. "I had tested for the position after learning more about the position by observing other dispatchers."

"My dad was a reserve officer when I was growing up, so that always had me interested in doing something in law enforcement," says Ramsay. "One day my brother had mentioned that he was talking to a dispatcher and thought I'd be perfect for it. So I tested for it, and here I am."

One of the hardest aspects of being a dispatcher is taking a 911 call and not seeing the end of the situation, according to Allen, George, and Ramsay. "We lose the resolution part of the incident and it does have an effect over time, not knowing how it ended," says George.

"Sometimes, when we take a call, we've imagined the scene much worse than it might have actually been," says Ramsay.

"We don't have much time to discuss these situations amongst ourselves before the next call comes in," says Allen. "We don't have time to process it."

Granted that such difficult situations occur every day, one might also wonder how these people can handle such a thing. "What helps me handle the stress of this, is realizing that we are helping them and that they wouldn't be able to receive it if we weren't here," says Ramsay.

"After a while of dispatching, you sort of become hardened," says George. "You can't take every call with emotion."

"This job takes a toll on you. You tend to become a different person over time," says Allen.

Throughout their time as dispatchers, they have experienced some very critical situations in which they not only have to deal with the emotion of the event but handle response effectively as well. "The most memorable moment for me was when the planes crashed over Roosevelt almost 10 years ago," says Ramsay. "Our phones were going crazy. Luckily the other dispatchers came in who were there to take some of the calls, although we couldn't keep up."

Akasha Spino-Bybee

Klickitat County's emergency dispatch operators have no limit to their call to duty in the face of emergencies. No longer working in the dark basement of the county courthouse, the dispatchers now operate in a spacious windowed office overlooking Goldendale.

"I was a paratrooper in the Army," says Allen, "and I get more chills from that incident than anything I did in the Army."

Another memorable incident that stays in the mind of dispatcher George was receiving the call that every dispatcher fears. "An incident that will always stick in my mind was when a Dalles police officer was shot in Wishram," she says. "That was a very emotional night."

"Police officers are like our brothers," says Ramsay.

Despite the struggle these dispatchers face, they overcome them every single day, which has inspired Goldendale High School's Becky Bare to select a few students to observe the dispatchers each semester. So far, it has been very educational and a good experience for students interested in law enforcement.

The next time you meet a dispatcher, be sure to thank them for their services.


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