Being the first to answer an emergency call can be both intense and rewarding, according to two emergency dispatchers with the Van Buren Police Department.
Emergency dispatchers Lily Clegg and Mandy Roy have been with the VBPD two and six years, respectively. Both were attracted by the salary and benefits, but have stayed because they enjoy the job, they said.
“It’s different every day,” Roy said. “You come to work, it’s going to be different. You never do the same thing over and over again. Every time, it’s a different call.”
Van Buren services that depend on the VBPD dispatch include fire, police, EMS and animal control, and additionally dispatchers provide a service to the public, Clegg said.
“Anybody that has a call about anything, they like to call the police department,” Clegg said.
When an emergency call comes in, the most important thing is keeping focus and getting the details, Roy said.
“No. 1 to me is going to be keeping my troops safe - you don’t want anything bad to happen to any of them,” Roy said. “But you also don’t want to be rude to any other person on the phone, so you listen to them and tell them you’ll take care of it. It’s about keeping (the officers) safe, but you want the public to feel like you’re still doing your service to them, as well.”
Protecting officers means gathering and providing them as much information as possible before they engage in a situation, Roy said.
“You’re their ears and eyes before they go in; you know everything before they get there and you want them to be prepared for it,” Roy said. “You want them to go in and know what they’re dealing with, to the best of your knowledge.”
Being able to multitask is one of the most important skills for the job, said Lt. Stephen Staggs. Dispatchers have to be able to communicate with multiple people at a time while both receiving and providing information, he said.
“It’s a high-pressure atmosphere,” Staggs said.
Dispatchers also have to be able to easily shift gears, said Van Buren Police Chief Jamie Hammond. There often can be down time between calls, but dispatchers must be ready when an emergency call comes in, he said.
“It goes from sitting there waiting to ‘BOOM’ - it really blows up,” said.
For Roy, the job sometimes can be an emotional roller coaster, she said.
“It doesn’t get to me, but I’ve worked a murder before and then as soon as that was done you have someone wanting to complain about a dog barking,” Roy said. “You have to let the adrenaline go down a little bit, but you stay calm and you keep rolling with it.”
Both Clegg and Roy try to not let difficult or emotional situations impact them personally, they said.
“I just focus on getting the job done, making sure everyone’s safe and get the correct parties out there as fast as possible, and then I just move on to the next call,” Clegg said. “I’m really good with the whole stress thing … and then after work I just go work out or something. I don’t let things really get to me.”
“If it has to do with a kid, it will bother me a little bit, (but) you can’t take it home with you,” Roy said.
VBPD has two dispatch stations, and eight total employed dispatchers who work seven 12 hour shifts within a two-week period, Staggs said.
“Night shift and day shift are two different animals,” Roy said. “Day shift, you’re going to have school traffic, all the detectives are on - you’re keeping up with double the people.”
Night shift often sees more criminal calls, Roy said.
While dispatch can be intense, Roy only found it stressful during her first months on the job, she said.
“They always say you can’t teach someone multitasking (and) that’s very true. You have to pick it up really, really quick,” Roy said. “The phone can be ringing - fire, 911, someone calling about a traffic stop - and you have to have a priority of what you’re going to answer, and you have to be able to do it quick.”
It takes about three months for a new dispatcher to be trained, Staggs said.
The VBPD is currently accepting applications to take the civil service exam required to become an emergency dispatcher, Hammond said. The general knowledge exam is given each year to qualified applicants, Staggs said.
Questions on the exam focus on general knowledge and Staggs likened it to a general education development (GED) test. This year the exam will be conducted on Oct. 2.
Those who pass the civil service exam will be given a multitasking test, which is more intense and takes longer to complete, Hammond said. Applicants will learn immediately if they passed or failed the multitasking test, Staggs said.
Applicants also will be submitted to a background check and interviews, Staggs said.
Those who pass all stages of the hiring process are placed on a list of qualified applicants good for one year, which is required by the Civil Service Commission for any civil service position.
“As openings are created, we hire from that list,” Hammond said. “We don’t have any openings right now, but we do these tests each year in preparation of there being an opening.”
Those interested in applying can pick up application packets at the VBPD from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and applications only will be accepted until 2 p.m. on Sept. 29.
Starting pay for a dispatch position is $29,235.73 annually, plus medical, dental, vision, life and retirement benefits. After one year of probation and training, annual pay increases to $30,899.15 plus step raises and other incentives.
Anyone interested in the position is encouraged to fill out an application and take the exam, Staggs said.
Dispatch can be a rewarding profession, Hammond said.
“People think, ‘Well, dispatch, what is that? They just answer phones.’ But it’s much more than that,” Hammond said.