Local News

Kindergartners learn 911 etiquette

SEBRING - Five- and 6-year-olds these days may not know what a landline is, so "Cell Phone Sally" made sure to introduce "the phone with a curly cord" to the kids.

How about a pay phone, which, incidentally, is also free to use when calling 911?

Kindergarten Learning Center students Tuesday not only learned about the different kinds of phones they can use to call in an emergency but when to call 911 - and when not.

Highlands County dispatchers, firefighters and emergency medical services providers, Highlands County Sheriff's Office deputies and a Sebring Police Department police officer teamed up to give about 375 Sebring kindergartners a brief run-down of 911 do's and don'ts.

They also saw the different kinds of emergency responders involved - as the dispatchers, firefighters, EMS personnel and officers present came out and waved at them.

"You don't have to be afraid of them," 911 Training Coordinator Josh Cordero told the students while introducing the four dispatchers. "Just answer their questions."

The two-hour presentation was part of the nationwide National Telecommunicator Week, which is set for April 13-19.

"Public safety agencies nationwide will be recognizing dispatchers, communication operators and radio control personnel for the important role they play in public safety," states a news release from the Highlands County Sheriff's Office in conjunction with the celebration.

Dispatchers are the first contact people have when they need help, said Sheriff Susan Benton, in the news release.

"... a family member not breathing, someone breaking into your house, your business on fire, when a loved one goes missing, or even when you just don't know what to do about something. These men and women are often times the unsung heroes," she said. "You never see them; they sit behind a huge console with three computer keyboards, five monitor screens, several telephones, with headsets on, feet pushing pedals on the floor taking to the caller and often time a deputy at the same time. They help save lives every day."

Cordero said this is the first time they are offering the presentation, which any school can request, along with literature students can take home.

He hoped the presentation, which is based in large part on an educational video and a question-and-answer session, "helps to negate (kids) playing on the phone" while calling 911, and to make sure they know dispatchers and emergency responders are there for them.

"We want you guys to know who to call in an emergency," he told the kids.

The kids learned how they can use a pay phone while outside, the importance of knowing their home address, how one can't send texts and emails to 911, and the importance of remaining calm and speaking clearly while talking to a dispatcher.

They learned not to call 911 if their pet has escaped, they have fallen from their bike and badly scraped their knee or if an animal is attacking another.

But if the animal is attacking a human, they should, Cordero told them.

In response to a question, Cordero said the county's Central Dispatch gets about 400 calls a day.

"You should ask your parents to show you how your cell phone works," he said. 'Know your address."

The school's dean Sarah Brooker said while students learn about 911 during Fire Safety Week, this is the first time they have learned when to call Central Dispatch.

The school has 21 kindergarten classes.