LIMA — Across the region there are men and women who spend their days sitting in windowless rooms, surrounded by computer monitors serving as a lifeline for men, women and children having one of the worst days of their lives.
The 9-1-1 dispatchers in the region are a diverse group who came to the job for various reasons. Denise Spallinger, a 25-year veteran, and Teresa Pulfer, a 12-year veteran, are dispatchers for the Allen County Sheriff’s Office who both stumbled into the job. Neither had considered being a dispatcher, but once they experienced it, they were in for life.
“It just came at a time in my life when I wanted a change,” Pulfer said.
Putnam County dispatchers Minday Vatmeter and Dan Hoyt were each first responders before becoming dispatchers. Vatmeter was a EMT and a firefighter for 10 years, and Hoyt was a police officer in Henry County for 20 years.
“I got out of it because I wasn’t as young as I used to be, but it kept calling me back,” Hoyt said. “I like helping people.”
Tia Treen has been a dispatcher with the Auglaize County Sheriff’s Department for six weeks. She wanted to be a dispatcher, she said. She was originally a State Tested Nurses Aide until deciding being a 9-1-1 dispatcher was the right path for her.
“It’s very awesome coming from being an aide to being in dispatch,” Treen said. “When a call comes in, it gets instantly quiet in there. Everyone just stops and everyone does their job to back [that dispatcher] up. It really is their own little family and it’s cool.”
Family is a theme running through all area dispatch units. The job is not easy, and they all help one another to deal with the bad calls. Michelle Hunlock, a 27-year veteran dispatcher with the Auglaize County Sheriff’s Department, said the call that will always stick with her involved friends of her family. She had to give CPR instruction over the phone, and the woman who needed it ended up dying, she said.
“I went to the funeral feeling guilty about it,” she said. “But they family thanked me for everything I had done.”
Allen County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Sgt. Andre McConnahea said a dispatcher who worked there was on the phone with a woman who was being attacked, and listened to that woman being gunned down.
“The woman was screaming for help; [the dispatcher] heard gunshots and knew they woman had been executed,” he said.
Spallinger said they all try to leave the job at the door when they leave at the end of a shift. That is not easy to do, and sometimes the bad calls go home with them, Pulfer said.
Not every call ends in tragedy. There are wins, too.
“I’ve had a couple of calls where a baby isn’t breathing,” Hoyt said. “After a few minutes, you hear the baby start crying and know it’s breathing again. Then the parents start crying. Those stick with you.”
Pulfer said 9-1-1 dispatchers are the first people on scene in an emergency. They are the first voice people hear in those situations, and the information they gather can help save not only civilian lives, but first responders’ lives, as well.
“The things and jobs they do are extraordinary,” said Auglaize County Sheriff Al Solomon. “It takes a special person to sit in that room and go from one call to the next. They can be handling a minor call one moment and the next dealing with a major emergency.”
Reach Bryan Reynolds at 567-242-0362