Emergency dispatch operators are trained to remain calm while dealing with callers who oftentimes are anything but calm. Communications Training Officer Timmy Snead of the Garden City Police Department ensures that he and his dispatchers do just that when dealing with emergency situations, as it is also a dispatcher's job to gather as much information as possible during a call.
"My role is to kind of give these dispatchers scenarios before they actually answer the phone, so they know, 'These are things I need to be thinking about,'" Snead said. "We have an emergency call checklist up on our wall downstairs. The first thing we do is obtain the location and nature of the call, and if it is some sort of emergency where the person can't stay on the phone, we know at least where to send people."
Because dispatchers must simultaneously speak with a caller while dispatching law enforcement, emergency medical services or the fire department, Snead said it is the tasks themselves that help them remain focused.
"When we're handling the call, we're thinking about which officers we're going to send or if we're going to send EMS or fire, what type of call we need to enter, so we've got things on our mind other than the panic that may be happening on the other line," he said.
Snead said it is a dispatcher's calmness that can oftentimes diffuse a high-pressure situation.
"A lot of times, it's just talking to whoever we're on the phone with, kind of helps keep them calm so we can get better information out of them and let them know we're getting help on the way so they can settle down a little bit. I mean, I spend a lot of time just talking to them, just trying to keep them calm so it doesn't escalate any further for any reason," he said. "I mean, we've got the earpiece right in our ear when we're talking to people, and if they're a little bit too excited, screaming or crying or whatever, it's real difficult to kind of pick out what they're saying, so we just kind of repeat the question, 'Ok, where are you at? Where are you at? Where are you at?' I tell them to take a breath for me so they can calm down so I can get their address ... each one is different on how we can calm people down so we can get the information."
In certain law enforcement-related scenarios, dispatchers also must gather information concerning whether there is a weapon on scene, a description of an individual who is threatening harm and other things that help responding officers know what to expect.
Snead said that the most stressful calls he receives usually involve fire, but that the most stressful situation he has ever found himself in was one in which there wasn't a 911 call.
"An officer was trying to pull a traffic stop and got into a vehicle pursuit. That was a little nerve-racking. Every time they say something on the radio during a vehicle pursuit, we're typing it out in our system so we have a record of it, so we're hearing stuff like, 'The subject just tried to strike three officers' vehicles with his vehicle.' Obviously, this guy's not going to be happy if they catch him. He might fight or have a weapon on him, and these are guys we see every day and talk to every day," he said. "When we first start out, a lot of these things make us nervous, but as we go along through working there, it just becomes almost second nature, just to kind of put that on the backburner and deal with the situation at hand. And as soon as it's resolved, you can (take a breath) and say, 'OK, everyone's OK.'"
Snead said that when he first started, it was after work that the stress of his job would often catch up with him.
"I get home and my wife's watching some cop show, and I'm like, 'All right, I can't watch this right now,'" he said, laughing.
He and his fellow officers and dispatchers often discuss a scenario after it's over, as a way of blowing off steam, which Snead said helps a lot.
"I don't want to say we make light of it, but it's kind of almost like a stress reliever just to kind of run through what happened with the officer that was handling it," he said.
Snead has been working as a dispatcher since 2010. He is originally from California, but was raised in Garden City. In his off time, he spends a lot of time with his family and enjoys reading, painting and playing both the violin and guitar.