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'Unsung heroes' of Washington County 911 Center recognized

Center Assistant Supervisor Tina Bowers described lunch in call center room as 'one of the best things' the staff could get

April 17, 2013|By CALEB CALHOUN | caleb.calhoun@herald-mail.com
  • Washington County Emergency Communications Specialists Mandy Thomas, left, and Beth Carpegna, right, took a quick break from their jobs as fire and police dispatchers Wednesday afternoon to enjoy lunch courtesy of the Smithsburg Emergency Medical Service staff. This week is National Public Safety Telecommunications Week.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

Smithsburg Emergency Medical Service provided lunch to the staff at the Washington County 911 Center as a token of appreciation for National Public Safety Telecommunications Week on Wednesday, but workers had no time to relax.

Dispatchers grabbed food, went back to their desks and continued working as they ate.

Washington County Emergency Communications Center Assistant Supervisor Tina Bowers described a lunch in the call center room as “one of the best things” the staff could get.

“There are a lot of times during the day we get busy, and people don’t even have time to step out and go to the bathroom, much less eat,” Bowers said. “If we get a break we get to leave the room for probably one or two minutes.”

The Olive Garden near Valley Mall gave Smithsburg EMS a discount on food to take to the center at 16232 Elliot Parkway in Williamsport, Chief James Ulrich said. Soup, spaghetti, salad, breadsticks and dessert were available to the staff.

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Ulrich said he and his staff wanted to properly thank the workers at the center for the service they provide.

“They’re out there every day, behind the scenes, answering 911 calls, dispatching our personnel on calls, relaying information to us, and they’re our lifeline,” he said. “If we need help or if there’s additional assistance that’s needed, they’re the ones that are going to be answering the calls for us.”

Dixie Pierce, a medic for Washington County who is a volunteer for Smithsburg EMS and also works as a bartender/server for Olive Garden, said that this was an event with which the restaurant wanted to be involved.

“These are the folks that you don’t see all the time on TV,” she said. “You see the chiefs and the EMTs on the news clips, but you never see these guys behind the computers and behind the phones, and calming the callers down.”
Workers in the center have to deal with all types of complaints, situations that require the 911 personnel to dispatch Fire and EMS units, Bowers said. The amount of action each day can change drastically, she said.

She said sometimes callers report minor issues, such as pets stuck in trees.

“They think it’s the fire department’s or the police department’s responsibility to come get the cat out of the tree,” she said. “It’s kind of a myth and we laugh about it every time.”

Bowers said that the 911 center also receives calls about minor disputes, including disputes at fast food drive-thrus and even calls about who goes first at the one-lane bridge in Funkstown. She described those calls as “frustrating.”

“In all of those calls there’s one emergent call that you’re either holding up, or when they’re getting through, you’re trying to deal with an emergent call and you’re getting all these 911 lines ringing over a petty issue,” she said.

Washington County Emergency Services Director Kevin Lewis described the staff in the call center as “unsung heroes.”

“They work essentially in the dark, behind the scenes, through telephone, through radio, and through mostly verbal communications,” he said.

National Public Safety Telecommunications Week is designated each year to honor those who serve as public safety telecommunicators. It was first introduced in Congress in 1991.

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