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Flagstaff dispatcher

April Webb, a dispatcher covering the officers of the Flagstaff Police Department, works Thursday afternoon during a snowstorm in Flagstaff.

As the first significant snow of the season approached northern Arizona this week, many made the decision to drive slow and ease into the curves on the road.

There were reports of some crashes, like an overturned Coors beer truck on South Lake Mary Road and a person who walked away with minor injuries from slamming their car into a tree. But meanwhile, dispatchers working out of the Flagstaff Police Department and Coconino County Sheriff's Office building were taking calls all day to ensure they helped everyone they could.

Katie Brandis, a communications manager who oversees the dispatchers, couldn't speak highly enough of her nearly 30 dispatchers who fielded over 300,000 911 and non-emergency calls in 2017.

"They're so highly trained," Brandis said. "They're able to be flexible in any situation, and they're just literally the unsung heroes of the department."

Dispatchers based in Flagstaff are trained for eight months before fielding calls on their own, a deviation from the national standard, which does not require training before putting someone in front of the dispatch system.

Dispatcher April Webb quickly searched license plates, forwarded calls from their non-emergency line and responded to panicking callers about crashes they witnessed. All that information can lead to overlap between incoming information, but Webb said she has a good enough handle on it.

"Now if I try hard enough I actually can follow two conversations at the same time," Webb said. "It's hard, and I miss some things, but I can do it."

She says she has learned not to take it personally when people yell or are difficult. Webb tries to focus on treating all their callers seriously and trying to build their trust.

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"Not necessarily being hysterical, but using the same tone of voice, using the same urgency — that kind of thing," Webb said. "Then maybe gradually trying to deescalate it from there by reassuring that it's good, everything's OK."

Despite all their training and preparation, that doesn't mean the calls are always easy. Webb has become better at handling the tough calls, like when people die or are closing to dying. In her line of work, she understands that she cannot just hand the phone off to someone else; she's a dispatcher, and this is her job.

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But all that pent-up stress means that when she gets off work, she said she takes a day for herself and de-stresses.

Webb was first interested in the job because of the good city benefits and how it helped her pay off student loans from attending Northern Arizona University. She has stayed at the job, however, because she gets joy from helping other people.

"It's nice once they say thank you, or on medical calls, when patients start breathing again, when babies are born. Things like that make it worth it," Webb said.

And her squad in their small room fielding calls from all around the county, helping them laugh through the hard times and having each other's backs?

"They make it fun and keep it exciting," Webb said. "We laugh at the little things."

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