911: A night in the life of dispatch

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 5, 2006

The Selma Times Journal

It’s early Friday evening.

Four police cars race down Dallas Avenue, blue lights flashing.

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A brawl has broken out in Bloch Park; &8220;ten to twelve cops were there by the time it was done,&8221; says a 911 dispatcher.

&8220;The sheriff’s department sent some deputies down.&8221;

The police were on the way because 911 dispatched them to the problem. In 2005, 911, located on Dallas Avenue in Selma, dispatched over 36,000 calls.

The police department responded to 29,149 calls.

The sheriff’s department responded to 5,790 calls.

The fire departments in Selma and Dallas County responded to 1,412 calls.

These are only the calls that were responded to.

February 3, 2006:

from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., there are approximately three Selma city police patrolling all of Selma and Selmont.

The city is sectioned into seven areas for patrolling, all of them divided by Broad Street:

Highland Avenue, Jeff Davis Avenue, and the Alabama River cordon off the sections.

When asked if this staffing is adequate for the area, two of the dispatchers respond:


The night shift for Friday, though, has a staff increased to eight officers.

&8220;If there’s a fight or shooting,&8221; a dispatcher said, &8220;the city police department will find a detective to travel out with an officer when they’re minimally staffed.&8221;

The 911 dispatchers, housed in a building on Dallas Avenue, route calls for the police department, the fire department, and the sheriff’s department.

They handle fire calls for the city and the entire county, covering 16 volunteer fire departments, the Dallas County Rescue Squad and the Selma Fire Department.

911 is staffed by 16 people; two part-time, the rest full-time.

There’s a tornado watch in effect.

Thunder and lightning sound outside of the cinderblock structure.

When storms blow through, home alarms trigger calls to 911.

&8220;A loose window and a windy night’ll set off alarms,&8221; the dispatcher said, &8220;we’ll get two to three calls to one house during a storm:

burglar, medical, panic alarms all going off because the power’s out or the wind is strong.&8221;

There are a multitude of computer screens blazing, a large military-time clock, and a television broadcasting current news.

Maps of the county cover the walls.

The dispatchers are armed with headsets, portable telephone units, and an alert sense of readiness.

The attrition rate for dispatchers is 79% in the first year.

The National Emergency Association keeps statistics.

If a dispatcher gets past the first year, another ten years will pass before attrition increases again.

The experience of the dispatchers on duty Friday night?

12.5 years, three years, and one and a half years worth of experience.

The dispatchers are trained in CPR, First Aid, and emergency medical dispatch training.

When the dispatchers receive calls, they must determine quickly what help is needed.

To best utilize the service they provide, a caller needs to provide &8220;where you are.

Who you are.

What happened.

In that order,&8221; the dispatcher explained.

&8220;After we’ve got that, we’ll go on and ask detailed questions to help the officers.

If it’s a fight call, or life threatening, we go ahead and send officers out without waiting for further information.&8221;