For Rhonda Brockwell, who said she became a dispatcher/9-1-1 operator 28 years ago to help people, one particular call made it all worthwhile.
A few years ago, she answered a call from a mother who found her child non-responsive in a pool.
She gave the mother CPR instructions, and the child survived, Brockwell remembered.
At some point, the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office gave her special recognition and “they surprised me and I got to meet the child,” said Brockwell, who is now a supervisor.
Brockwell is one of a dispatching staff, which when filled, has 34 dispatchers who handle both 9-1-1 and non-emergency calls, said Capt. J.P. Fane, who is in charge of the operation. They handle dispatching for law enforcement, emergency medical and fire throughout the county, he said.
This week from April 14 to April 24 is National Telecommunicators Week to honor the dispatchers who save lives, although they don’t leave the office.
Fane said most of the dispatchers have 10 years or more experience.
Brockwell, one of the more experienced, said she not only deals with calls from the general public, but also assists law enforcement officers. She said she tries to make sure officers “have the correct information” and that they have the back-up.
Over the years, Brockwell said, some of the more dramatic calls were when someone called and they said they suspected that another person broke into their house.
“We tell them that if someone is there to stay calm and that help is on the way,” Brockwell said. She said they also advise people to try to lock the door of the room they are in and not to make noise.
Authorities not infrequently get calls about crimes in progress, including robberies. In one instance that particularly made her worry. A bank employee called about a robbery, she said.
But it turned out to be a bank test of its employee and neither they nor the dispatchers knew it wasn’t real, she said.
Although the dispatchers help people in a lot of cases, they can do little in others, beyond getting an ambulance to the scene.
Lowanda Thompson, another dispatcher/9-1-1 operator, remembered a call that came in on Christmas several years ago where a parent accidentally ran over a child, who was behind the vehicle.
She got an ambulance to the scene, but the child died.
Brockwell said that calls that involve life and death still make her nervous, but she does her job.
“You get nervous, but you jump in and do it (your job) so you can help people stay safe,” she said.