OPINION COLUMNS

Arrested Developments: Dispatchers always answer the call

By Brian Knox | Published Saturday, April 20, 2019
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This past week has been National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week – a time set aside the second full week each April to honor those men and women who are the first to answer the call for help.

They can be known by several names – dispatchers, call takers, 911 professionals – but whatever you call them, they all have the same job: to find out your emergency and get you the help you need as quickly as possible.

Brian Knox

The voices of dispatchers are a constant companion in the newsroom with our police scanner going 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The information they relay is often the first time we hear of breaking news events.

I’m always impressed when I’m covering a criminal trial and they play a 911 call for the jury. Usually, the person making the call is quite upset, but the dispatchers always remain calm and ask important questions of the caller in order to relay that information to officers who are on their way to help.

Over the years, I’ve done several stories about local dispatchers who have won awards for their work. These dedicated servants work under some of the most intense pressure and sometimes even find themselves explaining life-saving techniques over the phone.

One dispatcher once told me that every day, they talk to people having the worst day of their lives.

Several current or former local law enforcement officials I’ve known over the years were once dispatchers, including Fire Marshal Jeff Doughty, Game Warden David Pellizzari and former Sheriff David Walker. (I’m probably leaving many out. If so, I apologize.)

As reporters, we are especially grateful for the work of dispatchers. We’ll often give them a call to ask about a location of some fire or wreck they just dispatched. Also they provide us with the Crime Report matierial you see above this column each week.

While most of the time, the information being relayed across the radio is of a serious nature, we’ve often enjoyed hearing some rather unique phrases uttered by dispatchers.

Our favorites were from now-retired Decatur Police Department dispatcher Gary Hudson. At one point, we even started writing down our favorite “Gary-isms,” and the list got quite long.

When Hudson retired 11 years ago, former legendary Messenger reporter Denny Deady (former reporter, she’s still legendary) wrote a story about him hanging up his headset, and it gave us a chance to publish some of the favorite things we heard Hudson say over the years.

Here’s just a sample of some of favorite “out-of-context” quotes:

  • “A small child at Wal-Mart had an altercation with a fence…and lost.”
  • “He was sweating profiercely.”
  • “That can’t be right, that would make him a midget.”
  • “There’s a woman bleeding from somewhere in the Wal-Mart bathroom.”
  • “She was either confused or excited.”
  • “They’re searching for an escapee from the nursing home. They need help NOW!”

And probably my favorite:

  • “Stop the Tom’s truck. The candy machine’s empty.”

But in all seriousness, thank you to all the dispatchers at the Wise County Sheriff’s Office, Decatur Police Department and Bridgeport Police Department for the important work you do.

Brian Knox is the Messenger special projects manager.

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