Imagine not only experiencing life through someone else — but doing it during what may be the most stressful of situations.
Envision the opportunity to help those who are unable to help themselves and offer some peace of mind, and then … Click.
The life of a dispatcher places one in the seat to experience it all, and after just a moment, have it all reset again.
In observance of National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week 2018, the Daily Record spoke with Jennifer Garcia, shift supervisor for Pecos Valley Regional Communication Center’s 911 telecommunications dispatch, for a glimpse of what it’s like to answer the call.
“There are times you get that sense of relief that somebody’s there finally that can help them or help calm them down or comfort them,” Jennifer says. “It’s one thing to try and comfort somebody on the phone — it’s another thing when you’re there in person to be able to comfort the person or to give them that security of knowing that they’ve been hurt, and their help is there.
“It can give you closure, a little bit of closure, depending on the circumstance. There are some that we may not get closure on because of the type of call it is, and we have to move on to the next.”
Jennifer, who has worked with the Pecos Valley Regional Communication Center for 17 years, described her first day as “scary.”
“I mean — you see everything that’s going on,” Jennifer says. “You hear everything that’s going on. You’re thinking to yourself, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t do this. This is a lot. I cannot believe how much these people do.’ And then, when you get into training and do it, and start doing it, you realize, ‘Yeah, I guess I can do this.’ That’s where it’s gone from there.”
Jennifer, originally from Illinois, says that becoming a dispatcher was an impromptu decision.
“It was something that became open. It sounded interesting to do, so I thought I would give it a try, and — I got hired and — I liked it,” Jennifer says, smiling. “It kind of inadvertently became a career for me. I don’t think necessarily, you always go into this kind of job thinking, ‘Oh hey, this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life,’ but it’s become that so far.”
The Daily Record asked if it’s typical for dispatchers and operators to try and map out the area of Chaves County in their minds.
“Most of us do kind of visualize — (we) do have a little bit more visual perception on what we’re seeing or thinking or hearing, so when you say an address or street or whatever,” Jennifer says. “We’re trying to visualize it as we’re putting it in, so we can — it did take a little bit of learning the streets and learning, you know, where everything was. That was a bit of a challenge.”
Jennifer was asked if, on her days off, certain addresses or streets tend to resonate with her due to a specific call.
“Sometimes that happens,” Jennifer explains. “You think about it, but generally speaking, every day is a new day, so we try to push forward.”
Jennifer says if one were to walk in her shoes, they would certainly feel the pressure.
“I mean — you see things on TV, but it’s not really what they put out there,” Jennifer says. “There’s a lot to it. It’s challenging — and stressful.”
Jennifer says amidst the stress, she continues to grow as both a communicator and a person.
“Oh yeah. I still love my job — I still love what I do,” she says. “It’s — it’s a challenge. It can be stressful. But every day’s a new day. Every day is a different event or a different set of circumstances.”
In situations where she needs essential info from 911 callers, Jennifer says there’s a balance between courtesy and firmness she has to find.
“That’s usually where the stress comes in,” she explains. “Because you want to do what you can to try and get the information that you need in order to be able to get the help to the people that need it.
“Sometimes, when you have a person that is in a situation, either very frightened or very irritated or agitated, it can be harder to get the information to be able to expedite the help to them.”
In those situations, Jennifer says one has to find a way to make it work.
“You have to come up with creative ways to ask things or get them to calm down, and a lot of your training goes into that as well,” she says. “There is training for that, but in the thick of it, sometimes, your emotions or your adrenaline is going just as high as the person that’s on the other end of the phone.
“You have to calm yourself down and kind of separate yourself a little bit and bring yourself down and try to figure out how to help the person. How to help them to express what it is that’s going on or to tell you where they’re at.”
Jennifer says sometimes just being able to determine a person’s location can pose a challenge.
“You just have to keep asking the questions, try to get through to them, try to help calm them down so that you can get the information,” she says. “(We’re) being courteous and nice, but there are times when you have to be a little louder than you normally would be so that they can hear you because of whatever’s going on. Every situation is different.”
In situations where police or other first responders arrive, Jennifer says simply knowing help arrived is a reward.
“Often times, it does seem like a thankless job, but the fact that we know that help got to them sometimes can be the ‘thank you’ that you need,” Jennifer says. “Definitely it’s rewarding. It’s knowing that somebody that needed help got the help they needed.
“Whether it’s just somebody that fell down that needed assistance getting up, because they can’t do it themselves, or something major. It’s just knowing that they got the help.”
Jennifer says everyone who works in her career remembers “that one call.”
“Everybody has had ‘a call’ that they had to deal with that has shocked them or has kind of thrown (them) for a loop — made them maybe look at what they do and why they do it,” Jennifer says. “Everybody goes through that in any kind of emergency services. If they don’t, I’d be amazed.”
Incidents that involve children tend to hit her a little closer to home, Jennifer says.
“It’s those things that can sometimes really knock you,” she says. “They can really make you feel either really sad for the family or you — because you know you get to go home and be with your child and hug your child, whereas that may not be the case for that family.”
Jennifer says practicing empathy is practically a job requirement.
“You have to,” she says. “You kind of have to understand sometimes where people are coming from, or what they’re feeling, and sometimes, it can be hard to, because you do have your own personal feelings, but you have to try and push those back (as much) as possible.”
In closing, Jennifer says the public knows she and her crew are in the community.
“They know because, when they call, we pick up the phone — and we answer,” she says. “You know, we’re people too. We have our good days, we have our bad days, and, generally speaking, your day may be a bit worse than mine, so we’re here to try and help you.
“We do the best that we can — we try the best that we can.
“It’s the job that we do. And most of us here do enjoy the work that we do — just for the fact that we’re helping people.”
Before ending the interview, Jennifer made it a point to offer her thanks to police, firefighters, ambulance crews, other first responders throughout Roswell and Chaves County, as well her own crew and others who are in her line of work.
“I appreciate everything that 911 — not just myself being a 911 operator, dispatch or supervisor, but any 911 operator, dispatcher — they go through a lot,” Jennifer says. “They learn a lot, they hear a lot, they don’t necessarily see it, because they don’t go out in the scene, so everything that they have to see is usually what they visualized or what they’ve heard.
“So, just a thank you to not just — not thanking myself — but, thanking 911 dispatchers and communicators throughout the state in this agency throughout the country.
“And our deputies,” She laughed. “Can’t forget the deputies.”
Multimedia-Crime reporter Trevier Gonzalez can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.