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1/24/2014 6:00:00 AM
911: When there's no time to lose, dispatchers are 'guardian angels'
Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
Communication specialist Alan Radloff answers calls and dispatches officers from the Yavapai County Communication Center on December 17.
Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
Communication specialist Alan Radloff answers calls and dispatches officers from the Yavapai County Communication Center on December 17.
Scott Orr
The Daily Courier

This is part one of a three-part series.

For Yavapai County sheriff's deputies working the outlying parts of the county, Samantha Russell and her co-workers are a lifeline.

They are the dispatchers in the YCSO communications center. Their jobs are difficult, and require juggling multiple radio calls along with answering phone calls - emergency and routine - from the public, at the same time.

Russell sits at a desk with four flatscreen computer monitors, a keypad, and a footpedal to open her mic.

On a recent evening, she was accompanied by three other "telecommunicators." Two of them primarily answer phone calls; Russell and another dispatcher mostly talk to the patrol units.

There are 19 communication specialists and three supervisors, like Russell, and at the busiest times, six can be working simultaneously.

In 2012, the communications center took nearly a quarter-million phone calls including 911, "ringdowns," which are transfers from other agencies, Silent Witness tips, and non-emergency calls for service.

Of those, 26,000 were 911 calls. That's the equivalent of 71 emergency calls a day, or about three an hour. All 911 calls made from the county outside Prescott and Prescott Valley come to this room. Fire and medical calls are routed to the appropriate agency.

Russell's boss, YCSO Captain Brian Hunt, freely admits that he couldn't do her job. "They really are the ultimate multitaskers, and they have to be," he said. "They're hearing information come in, they're soliciting information, they're clarifying things, and they're never doing just one thing at any given time."

"It is very difficult, and it's not something you can teach someone to do," Russell said. "We actually give (our trainees) seven weeks of just multitasking," doing what the dispatchers do on a busy day.

It's a job made all the more daunting by the enormous distances the outlying patrol units must cover. For example, in the western half of the county, there is one on-duty deputy assigned to Bagdad. Another is based in Congress. A third may be working Ash Fork/Seligman. And that's it for that half of the county.

It's not easy to get a county the size of several small eastern states covered.

Every hour, if a dispatcher hasn't heard from a deputy, he or she will check in and make sure everything is all right. Once the deputy arrives at a scene, Russell will check in every five minutes if she doesn't hear the deputy talk on the radio.

"We're their lifeline," Russell said. "We worry about them. Their closest backup is anywhere from five minutes to an hour away."

The center also dispatches for Chino Valley Police and other agencies like the PANT drug task force, U.S, Forest Service and county adult and juvenile probation departments.

Russell's fingers fly over the keyboard, opening windows on her computer monitors and, just as quickly, closing them and opening others.

At times, she sounds like an auctioneer, or possibly an air traffic controller, answering incoming radio calls from deputies and police officers.

Although both YCSO and Chino Valley have installed computers in their vehicles, many deputies and officers, always concerned about safety, don't like to focus their attention on a computer screen for long periods of time, especially at night. That means they do a lot of their checking licenses and identities over the radio.

Russell simultaneously does those checks, relays critical call information to officers, answers the phone when it gets busy, and helps deputies find locations.

One officer on the west side of the county calls in that he sees a green flare "over the mountains" and wants to figure out if it would be in Maricopa County or Yavapai. He thinks it could be hikers, lost and trying to get help.

Russell calls MCSO and asks if they have any searches going on in the area; they do not. She establishes that the location is probably in Yavapai County and the deputy heads toward where he saw the flare.

But a few minutes later, a call for a domestic disturbance in Congress comes in, and Russell is forced to "break" him - send him on the more important call. She also sends another deputy as his backup, but he's even farther away.

"(We) dispatch a call, and we're waiting for them to get there, and we're at the edge of our seat," she continued. "A lot of times, we don't get a resolution as to how the call ends."

"I've heard dispatchers referred to as 'guardian angels,'" Hunt said, "because it's someone you don't see, who is, in a way, accompanying you throughout the course (of a call), and is watching over you."

Tomorrow: When 911 just isn't enough.

Follow the reporter on Twitter @AZNewsguy

Related Stories:
• Sometimes, 911 just isn't enough



Reader Comments

Posted: Saturday, January 25, 2014
Article comment by: B R

Recently when out riding my motorcycle on a smaller back road I made too wide a turn caused by the sun hitting my eyes and blinding me for a second. I hit the curb and Iwent down although I landed on the sidewalk. My husband and daughter were right in front of me on his bike. Within minutes not only did several people stop to offer assistance but the police showed, the fire dept showed as did an ambulance. I was fine albeit a bit embarrassed but my daughter who was here visiting said, wow that was amazing how quick they showed up and how helpful people were. It reassured all of us if ever needed help is here for us.

Posted: Saturday, January 25, 2014
Article comment by: J L

I giving you folks MY perspective and experience. If you don't like it to bad. And Steve G. sorry for your loss. That was hard to read.

Posted: Friday, January 24, 2014
Article comment by: Tired of business as usual...

Leave it to two malcontents to spew on a good article... some people...

Posted: Friday, January 24, 2014
Article comment by: Vi King

Thank you for all you do.

People if you live in the middle of bum-freaking Egypt, don't get mad when you have no services or support. Want an officer on every corner, move to a big city.

Stop blaming the officers and their support. They would like more help too!

Take care of your family, and help those around you if you can. Ever think of joining CERT. Community Emergency Response Team. Take some Wilderness Responder classes. Educate yourself so you are less dependent on others.

Just because it is easier to complain doesn't mean you should...

@SteveG: I am so sorry for your wife's passing. Think of her often, but never lose sight of your health. Take care of yourself. She would want you to smile again.


Posted: Friday, January 24, 2014
Article comment by: Aces N' Eights

When seconds count, the police are minutes away...

Posted: Friday, January 24, 2014
Article comment by: mystic soul

I loved calling you (911) when I was little, it was a thrill to speak to 911, lol, now I have much respect. Thank You for all you do.

Posted: Friday, January 24, 2014
Article comment by: Ted's Perspective

Dispatcher’s roles as described is difficult to image. We place an unrealistic expectation on emergency services, to be able to timely intervene in all circumstances. We as individuals should be prepared to deal with emergencies and care for our families. Realistically it is not humanly possible to expect instant assistance.

Posted: Friday, January 24, 2014
Article comment by: Steve G

I got home from work this past Wednesday evening to find my wife in bed and unresponsive. No pulse, no breathing. I called 911 and the lady who answered was professional and kind. She engaged me and kept talking to me until the paramedics arrived. Unfortunately my wife of nearly 40 years was dead. But the kindness and calmness and professionalism of all involved was a godsend to me at a time of shock and sorrow.

Posted: Friday, January 24, 2014
Article comment by: J L

I called 911 from my cell phone several years back when I heard (at night) a young child in distress. My friend and I both at different times tried to get 911 with little success. They answered, but asked if we were in Flagstaff. They then directed us to call the local police. It took the police 35 minuets to respond! I you want ANY response from local law enforcement you have to call in an accident. Then you will be guaranteed 2-4 police officers to show up!

Posted: Friday, January 24, 2014
Article comment by: Thomas Gatchell

YOU are responsible for YOUR and YOUR loved one's safety.

Remember, when seconds count the police are minutes away.




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