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Despite stress and thankless job, dispatchers keep picking up the phone

A few words and a calm voice start every 911 call in Pekin:

“Tazewell County 911, where is your emergency?”

Pekin police officer and part-time dispatcher Michael Ward described what it’s like in the hot seat.

“It’s very hectic,” he said. “At times, you’re one person keeping track of dozens and dozens of other people. And on top of that, you’re dealing with people on the phone who are already in a stressful situation.”

At the Tazewell County Consolidated Communications Center (otherwise known as TC-3), 32 full time dispatchers handle tens of thousands of call every year.

“A lot of people think we just answer a phone call, or take messages,” scoffed Director Johnny Platt. “That’s not what we do. We deal with people that are having the worst day of their life.”

In Peoria County, the numbers are higher (over 107,000 911 calls in 2018), but the stress and need to excel in a tough situation is the same.

“Some of my toughest calls…I don’t remember any of it,” explained dispatcher Megan Gschwind. “I leave my body almost, it’s muscle memory. After I hang up, that’s when I take in, to the realization that, ‘okay, that was a tough one.'”

April 14-20th is National Dispatchers Appreciation Week. As such, we wanted to know: what is it dispatchers want most when you call 911?

“Be patient,” elaborated Ward. “We have a lot of information to gather, that we’re required to ask, so we can get details out and get the proper help they need.”

And, no matter the nature of the call, two words can make all the difference.

“This sounds so silly, but when people say ‘thank you’ to me on the phone, that’s awesome,” said Gschwind. “I’ll remember the thanks more than anything that happened in the call afterwards.”

Peoria County is hiring for additional 911 dispatchers. If you’re interested, you can click here, then scroll to find the ‘Emergency Communications Telecommunicator,’ listing.

Mason Dowling

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