“911, what’s your emergency?” asked the calm voice answering the call.
The question is the same, but for Army emergency dispatchers every call is different -- a house could be on fire, a crime is being committed, someone may be injured, or a serious car accident has happened.
Or even earlier this year at Fort Gordon, Georgia, when a Soldier voiced suicidal thoughts and shortly after midnight went missing. It was up to two dispatchers, Teronda Taylor and Sandra Edwards, to safely locate the man and ensure he received medical treatment.
Taylor and Edwards, who often work together on 12-hour shifts, received the call from a building manager concerned a Soldier who left the building was possibly suicidal. The Soldier’s wife and father also both received text messages from the Soldier stating he may harm himself.
“We jumped right in,” Taylor said about the call. First, they pinged the Soldier’s phone to search for his exact location.
A few minutes later, they found the Soldier’s phone roughly an hour away in Saluda County, South Carolina. With the help of local officials, they pinpointed coordinates all the way down to a grassy area between two roads.
The dispatchers then sent a health and welfare request to Saluda County with the updated location, which helped first responders find the Soldier. The distraught Soldier, who had cut himself, was transported to a nearby medical facility.
He survived and was given the medical treatment that possibly saved his life, Edwards said.
On any given shift, calls like these are answered by dispatchers. With each one, they must remain coolheaded amidst the stressful situations and “help people get through what could be the toughest moment of their life,” Taylor said.
April is National 911 Education Month, which recognizes dispatchers across the nation for the work they do on the other end of those emergency calls.
Besides being dispatchers, Taylor and Edwards both served in the Army and in law enforcement as deputy sheriffs.
“We’re effective in getting people to help in the least amount of time,” Taylor said.
However, these professionals are “just doing their job and never asking for the thank you,” said Edwards, who became a dispatcher in 2010.
Similar jobs are carried out across installations by other 911 dispatchers every day.
For example, earlier this year at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the 911 center received a call from a distraught individual stuck in their vehicle just before it went into a river.
After taking down pertinent information to start a water rescue, Juan Rodriquez, the 911 operator, pinpointed the caller’s location and got emergency crews in place. From there, first responders discovered the driver had attempted suicide and tried driving into the water.
Following his training, Rodriquez kept the caller calm until he could be transferred to the hospital and receive treatment.
On the opposite side of the country, Garrett Rink, a dispatcher at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, received a call in January from an on-base resident whose wife had given birth to an unconscious newborn.
Despite being on the other end of a telephone call, Garrett assessed the situation and instructed the caller on how to perform resuscitation on the infant.
After a few minutes of following the dispatcher’s guidance, the Soldier was able to get his newborn baby breathing again. Shortly after, the mother and newborn were transported to a nearby hospital for further evaluation and went on to make a full recovery.
Dispatchers never know what their 12-hour shift will bring, Taylor said. All she can do is say a prayer at the beginning of each shift and hope for the strength to remain calm no matter what comes her way.
“This is a rewarding career, but it takes a special person to do the dispatching job because you may not get recognized for what you do but the reward is personal,” Edwards said. “But, when you get thanked for your work, we always appreciate it.”