Washington Evening Journal

Fairfield Ledger   Mt. Pleasant News
Neighbors Growing Together | Nov 23, 2017

Telecommunicators offer help during emergencies

By Xiomara Levsen | Apr 15, 2013
Dispatcher Joni Huisenga is at  her desk at the Washington County Communications Center.

This week the Washington Communications Center is celebrating National Public Safety Telecommunications Week. The Communications Center has over 121 years of service with the nine dispatchers who work there, supervisor Cara Sorrells said.
“We’re a countywide dispatch center so we answer all the calls for anyone within the county or traveling through the county,” Sorrells said. “That’s calls for ambulance, fire, police, and sheriff.”
The Washington Communications Center dispatchers have several things they have to do at a moment’s notice when a call comes in.
They have to look at six different computer screens, which include the 911 mapping and 911 answering system for Washington County.
Just to do their job, dispatchers have to go through several months of training and a 40-hour course at the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy, Sorrells said. Dispatchers also go through an emergency medical dispatch course so dispatchers know what instructions to give the caller before help arrives.
Shelly Reed-Wulf of Washington is one of the dispatchers. She has worked at the communications center for 13 years.
“It was always something that I thought would be interesting,” Reed-Wulf said. “To be in the law enforcement field, even though we don’t carry guns.”
Reed-Wulf said there isn’t one call that sticks out to her.
“I guess any call where you’ve helped someone with something where they needed help with and there was a good outcome,” she said.
When calls come in Reed-Wulf has many things going through her mind.
“You try not to guess ahead or think ahead,” she said. “When we’re here we can’t see anything that’s going on. It’s really easier to not think of anything except for what they’re telling us so that you can just keep those things in front of you.”
Reed-Wulf’s heart still pounds when she receives a 911 call. At the communications center when a 911 call comes in two dispatchers can pick up and listen.
“It used to be that you couldn’t do that,” Reed-Wulf said. “If she would get a 911 call I would monitor and write down just the basic information to know if they need ambulance, fire, and the address.”
She would go back to her desk and would start getting the
proper authorities to respond to that call.
“It just helps with the response time,” Reed-Wulf said. “Instead of having to wait until everybody’s finished.”
It also gives the other dispatcher peace of mind knowing that someone else is dispatching the authorities to the call location, Reed-Wulf said.
Joni Huisenga of Wellman has worked at the communications center for five years. She said there is one thing she really likes about her job.
“Just being able to find answers and get people the help they need,” Huisenga said. “We’re counted on for a lot of different stuff and it’s nice to deliver.”
Huisenga used to work nights at the communications center. She has noticed a difference in calls during the day compared to the evening shift.
“When I worked nights it was mostly driving complaints and intoxicated drivers,” Huisenga said. “Sometimes those result in accidents. We don’t get a lot of volume of calls working in the evenings.”
On the day shift, the call volume is higher and mostly deals with complaint calls, she said.
Depsite being there for five years Huisenga wonders if she is making a mistake when responding to a call.
“I still doubt myself,” she said. “Now I’m worried that I’m doing the right thing, but we have every tool that we need at our fingertips.”
One thing the communication center has is dedication among its staff. If there is severe weather in the area several staff members will come in to work without being called in. Huisenga said if she could get to work from Wayland, she would.
“I don’t think there isn’t a dispatcher here that wouldn’t show up,” Huisenga said. “It’s exciting to be in here and be a part of that help.”

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