SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – When you’re in a life-and-death emergency you call 911. In these moments, we all rely on an emergency operator who can calmly get us through a crisis. ABC4 News recently visited dispatchers with Salt Lake City 911 to learn how they keep their cool, in this edition of Behind the Badge.
Calling 911 in an emergency requires dispatchers answering the call who know what to do.
Caller: “Oh my God. I’m on 3rd Avenue at the railroad tracks. Somebody just tried to jump on the train and severed her legs.”
Dispatcher: “Alright, I’ve sent the paramedics… (inaudible) I’ll tell you exactly what to do next. Is the baby crying…”
Caller: “The Paramedics are…”
Dispatcher: “Is the baby crying…”
Caller: “The baby…”
Dispatcher: “Is the baby crying or breathing?”
Caller: “The baby is crying and breathing. Yes, yes.”
Emergency dispatchers at Salt Lake City 911 said they have to be ready for anything.
“It’s kind of a roller-coaster, so you could have a caller talking about a parking problem and the next call you get right after that is somebody having a heart attack,” said Alysha Gualazzi, 911 Dispatcher, Salt Lake City 911.
Dispatchers each receive six months of training to handle 911 calls and said the key to helping people in a panic is knowing how to keep calm.
Caller: “He was shot in the head.”
Dispatcher: “Okay. Is he still breathing?”
Caller: “I don’t know if he is still breathing. He’s not moving at all.”
Dispatcher: “Okay, Did he shoot himself or did someone else shoot him?”
“How do you stay calm, during calls like that?” Reporter Brian Carlson asked one 911 operator.
“You kind of get in this dispatcher zone, where you just become focused on what you’re saying, you try to get as much information as possible, to get a call out to get them help,” said Gualazzi.
“I bring lots of things that relax my mind to do in between calls… sometimes I read, I color, I’ll play games on my phone, things that just calm my mind,” said Brookelyn Chournos, 911 Dispatcher, Salt Lake City 911.
Yet emotions from a career taking intense calls still surface.
“Just know that they’re proud of you for doing a hard job every single day… (gets teary eyed) Sorry,” said Gualazzi.
“I’m guessing those emotions bubble up sometimes,” replied Carlson.
“Little bit,” she said.
It’s why Salt Lake City 911 keeps trained staff on hand to offer peer support, and a quiet room giving dispatchers a place to go when the calls are too much, and they need an escape.
“Sometimes you have to have a cry session afterwards,” said Chournos.
“Cumulative PTSD is very common in this line of work, and it’s necessary to address those issues and make sure people get the help they need, and this center has got a fabulous program, the city is extremely supportive,” said Lisa Kehoe, Deputy Director, Salt Lake City 911.
Their deputy director said 911 operators tend to see burnout two or three years into the job, but those who find a way to balance the stress stay for a long career.
“I feel proud of this job. You’re helping people. You’re getting people, police and medical help,” Gualazzi said.
“There’s a just relief that washes over you to know that someone is alive today because you were able to be in the center and answer that phone call is just amazing,” Chournos said.
You never know what calls will come in.
Dispatcher: “Tell me exactly what happened.”
Caller: “I’m stuck in a tree! 100 feet up.”
Whatever’s waiting for them on the other line, Salt Lake dispatchers feel they have the tools to help whatever the next caller needs.
In 2022, Salt Lake City operators took 152,148 911 calls. To keep up with all those calls they can always use good operators. If you want to apply, click on this link to the Salt Lake City 911 website.