Dispatchers: The Unseen Heroes of First Response


It's a relatively quiet morning in the dispatch center located north of Reno at the Emergency Response Center on Spectrum Drive.

Those on duty are handling calls for a number of local agencies. Some work for Reno. Some for the county. When something major happens they all work together.

It's most often quiet like this, but that, of course can change at any moment. They spend a lot of time preparing for that moment.

"They get extensive training," says Kelley Odom, Reno's Assistant Communications Manager. "We pull in patrol to do scenarios with them. We do scenarios as we're sitting their every day with them. So they get a lot of scenario based training and it just kicks in for them."

Nearby, sitting at a terminal, headphones on is Jody Yturbide, an 18 year veteran of this work. Her shift has been quiet and routine so far. That could change anytime.

"Not that we look forward to those moments, but I think we all work better in those moments," she says.

It's what she trained for.

Monday as news of the attack in Massachusetts spread, thoughts of these people inevitably turned to their counterparts in Boston. They understood the chaos there and the need to find order more than most and they know what it takes.

"I mean it gets very emotional," says Yturbide, "but I think when we're in that moment the emotion goes down and you deal with what you need to do."

Coincidentally this is National Public Safety Telecommunications Week, set aside recognize and thank these unsung heroes of first response.

At their end of the room Washoe County dispatchers were displaying newly received commendations from the U-S Senate, Congress and the Red Cross among others.

It's well deserved recognition, but rare. That doesn't appear to matter. They're concentrating on the next call and that could once again put all that training to the test.

Anyone that has done this work here for any amount of time has experienced it first hand. Major fires, the crash at the Air Races and police calls.

"I've had an officer involved shooting, probably the worst call of my whole career and training definitely takes over. When it's all said and done, that's when its hard on a dispatcher."

"It's taxing and it exhausts us," says Odom, "but it's something we love to do and our adrenalin gets going and we handle it and move on to the next call.

"You've got to be calm and you've got to be able to think clearly and quickly. It takes a unique person to do the job."


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