SEQUIM — A dispatcher, also known as a dispatcher, is the person you’ll likely meet first in an emergency after calling 9-1-1.
They are behind the scenes to decipher the situation, reach out to first responders on the ground, and possibly take emergency action for the person on the phone.
“It’s a job unlike anything I’ve done,” said Karl Hatton, deputy director of Peninsula Communications, or PenCom, Clallam County’s 9-1-1 center.
“You never know what you’re going to get or what difference you’ll make.”
In March, the Port Angeles Police Department, under which PenCom operates, presented the PenCom Life Saving Award to Communications Supervisor Dennis Laboy of Sequim for his efforts during a September 2021 incident.
Laboy, who has worked for PenCom for nearly 11 years, said a woman called 9-1-1 about her husband who was unconscious and not breathing.
Moments before, Laboy had had to call the number back after a hang-up, and within 17 seconds he had contacted paramedics and sent them the caller’s location, Hatton said.
Laboy also determined that the man needed CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and when told that the woman didn’t know how to do this, he gave her instructions.
She performed CPR for 7-10 minutes until doctors arrived.
Port Angeles police said the husband, who was taken to St. Michael Medical Center in Bremerton, survived.
“I give him credit for doing a great job of what was necessary to save his life,” Laboy said.
“I was impressed and quite privileged in this position to help someone who was willing to help their loved one.”
Laboy said the award is a continued step forward for carriers.
“The people I work with are great people,” he said. “It’s a special group and I’m honored to be a part of it.”
Senate Replacement Bill 5555, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim, partially recognizes carriers as first responders and paves the way for such personnel across the state to establish a process for certification for the profession.
Municipalities across the United States also recognize April 10-16 as National Carriers Week.
Laboy pursued a career at PenCom after seeing a newspaper ad.
“I was looking for a job with benefits because I was thinking about my young family,” he said.
Many telcos think about going into the medical field or law enforcement, but Laboy said he finds his job keeps his adrenaline pumping.
“Someone is going through the worst-case scenario of their life and most human beings are going to be in a state of panic. Our job is to help them,” he said.
The response from callers, like the woman who called 9-1-1 last September, is critical.
“As a loved one, you have a role to play in being able to save that loved one’s life,” Laboy said.
“We can’t do this without the help of our callers.”
Role of dispatchers
When a call comes in to PenCom, the carriers work with the caller and simultaneously with the first responders in the field. Laboy said their goal was to dispatch an agency to a location within 60 seconds and, if necessary, initiate CPR within 120 seconds.
It encourages callers to stay calm and follow instructions.
“[They] you have two options: you can let go of your frustration and be angry, or understand that the [telecommunicator] tries to do everything in its power to help,” Laboy said.
“In the end, it can save a life.”
Laboy said the job requires calm demeanor and the ability to think quickly.
“You just have to have a passion for helping people and learn not to take things personally,” he said.
“At the end of the day, I love my job and most of the time we are able to disconnect and learn from all the mistakes.”
Says Hatton: “We provide instructions that can make the difference in saving someone’s life.”
Fill a need
In recent years, it has been difficult to find and retain public safety carriers, Hatton said.
PenCom continues to advertise locally and nationally, but finds many state agencies are struggling to hire now.
PenCom has been operating about half of its staffing capacity with 10 to 11 out of 20 carriers for more than two years, Hatton said, while continuing to post job openings.
Some administrative staff, including Hatton, also worked on 9-1-1 consoles to cover shifts.
Basic training takes about six months before someone can work on a console on their own, he said, and then it takes at least another six months with a mentor before they’re independent.
“Fortunately, like most 9-1-1 centers, we always have each other’s backs,” Hatton said.
For more information on open positions, visit cityofpa.us/1052/Job-Center.
Matthew Nash is a reporter for the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is made up of the Sound Publishing Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum newspapers. Join it at [email protected].