Meet Your Neighbors: 911 dispatcher finds job ‘stressful,’ ‘devastating,’ but ‘very rewarding’

Becky Campbell • Mar 12, 2012 at 8:38 AM

Lori Haggerty is one of dozens of people who, over the years, has saved lives, led rescuers to victims and been the voice of calm in an otherwise catastrophic situation.

And yet, she’s only met one of those victims in her 24 years in emergency response. It’s not an unusual thing in her field.

Haggerty is a 911 dispatcher, a life saver as much as a fireman who pulls someone from a burning building, a paramedic who gets someone’s heart beating again or a police officer who rescues a lost child.

Haggerty’s job is on the front end of all those emergencies.

“When they tell me what’s going on, I try to paint that picture in my mind,” Haggerty said. That way, she can get a feel for what the caller is experiencing.

“We’re always on the wondering end of what happened. When you actually get to meet somebody” — a victim in the emergency — Haggerty said the experience becomes even more rewarding.

Dispatchers work 12-hour shifts, rotating day and night shifts. It’s a long time to answer the phone and the call volume has increased dramatically during Haggerty’s career. But advancements in technology put every phone call, every officer or firefighter at a dispatcher’s fingertips — literally.

Everything is computerized in the 911 center now. A dispatcher’s station consists of four computer monitors, a keyboard and a headset for communication.

“Back in the day we had a radio and telephone,” she said. When officers were dispatched to a call, dispatchers used a punch card in a time clock to record when the dispatch went out.

That card was put in a file under the officer’s name. Haggerty said such a system would be nearly impossible these days due to the number of calls officers go on or generate on their own.

And those officers depend heavily on their dispatchers.

“It’s not just about dealing with people who call in here,” Haggerty said. “It’s about the officer, firefighter or emergency responder. They’re our family and you’re their life connection,” she said.

“They depend on you to get them information they need to stay safe.”

Haggerty said callers often ask why she is asking them so many questions.

“We need that information to know what to do and let our field personnel know what they’re going into,” she said.

One of Haggerty’s most frustrating situations happened last year when severe storms brought tornadoes to the area.

“It’s one of the only times I felt helpless,” she said. Rescuers were slowed because of so many trees across the roads, she said.

“The only thing people had to hold onto was the person on the phone,” she said. “There are times you’re the last person someone talks to before something happens to them.”

Even through frustrating situations like that, Haggerty said she loves her job.

“It’s a very rewarding job, it’s a very stressful job and it’s a very devastating job because of the tragedy,” she said.

“I like knowing I might be the person who makes a difference in someone’s life.”

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