They are the first contact for anyone facing an emergency.
The telecommunicators of the Gila County Sheriff's Office, the Payson police and fire departments are the first contact for those in need of emergency services. They are the people charged with the task of dispatching help rapidly, while keeping the safety of victim and emergency personnel in mind.
This week is National Telecommunicators week and honors the very first responders and recognize the important role they play in keeping the community safe.
GCSO Administrative Manager Trudy Cory said dispatchers are often undervalued for the work they do and the nature of the job they have.
"They have a very difficult and complicated job and often don't get the recognition they deserve," Cory said. "They are the ones that take the 911 calls and get help to people."
"It's one of the most stressful jobs I can think of," Payson Police Commander Don Engler said. "It's unbelievable the volume of work they do in a short period of time, especially when a serious crime is in progress or there is a car accident with injuries. Perhaps the most difficult part of their job is they have to rely on the information they receive by telephone and feedback from the emergency units on the scene. That is a difficult position to be in because you don't have first-hand knowledge. I would much rather be a police officer at the scene than the telecommunicator trying to put together what is taking place with the bits and pieces of information they do have."
Fritz Day is dispatch supervisor for northern Gila County at the Payson GCSO and takes calls from 54 different communities scattered throughout the area.
"We cover everything north of the (Roosevelt) dam," Day said. "North to the Coconino County line past Strawberry and east to the Woods Canyon Lake turnoff."
Dispatching to such a broad area each console has four channels for law enforcement, seven channels for local fire departments including Christopher Kohl's Ranch, Tonto Basin, Tonto Village and Young.
"We are getting information from all the different sources of people who need help," Day said. "Most people don't have the luxury of looking up a number when they have an emergency, so they call 911. I am the first line of contact. You have to have a lot of patience, be able to multi-task, get the information and be able to handle a lot of stress. You have to be able to juggle a lot of things at once."
Engler said stress management is one of the first areas dispatchers are trained in.
"The dispatchers also have access to the same trainings that officers have for stress management," Engler said.
Day said that during the first three months of 2005, GCSO deputies were dispatched to 226 property crimes and 486 crimes against persons. He said dispatchers don't just handle crisis calls, but are often providing resources and phone numbers for people to call.
Gila County dispatch also is in charge of inputting and confirming warrants from the justice and superior courts, as well as any orders of protection which are filed at the court.
"We also do criminal history checks for our investigators and check all the pawn tickets to see if the items may be stolen," Day said.
The sheriff's office is working on revised 911 addressing which has been a huge undertaking, Cory said. Some communities which have never had 911 will now have access to it because of the project.
Although Payson police dispatchers have a smaller geographical area to cover, they field nearly 20,000 calls a year, Engler said.
"The dispatchers were the initial information gatherers on all those calls," Engler said. "They also had made an additional 6,000 calls to other entities like public works, the sanitary districts and other agencies involved with public safety."
Police telecommunicators also dispatch for the Houston Mesa, Beaver Valley, Diamond Star and Whispering Pines fire departments.
When they are not on the phone, police dispatchers also enter all magistrate warrants, citations, reports and information on stolen property into the department's records system.
Through a bond initiative passed by Payson voters in 2003, Payson Police dispatchers will have a new, high-tech emergency dispatch system within the next 18 months, similar to what Gila County recently installed.
The new system will be Windows-based and patrol cars will have laptops hooked into the system so officers on the street can check if someone has a warrant or criminal history.
The Payson Police Department also held its first dispatchers academy this year which consisted of six weeks in a classroom setting and a few weeks of practical training.
"We have three new dispatchers who will be graduating on April 21," Engler said. "It went really well and I think we will continue it."
Despite the pressure of being a telecommunicator answering 911 calls, Engler said it can be immensely rewarding as well.
"When they successfully accomplish the tasks they have that ultimately save lives, it can be very rewarding," he said. "There is not an officer around who doesn't appreciate what the dispatchers do. They keep us safe and I know, as a police officer, I appreciate that."