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What does it take to be a 911 dispatcher?

911 dispatcher.jpg
Posted at 6:58 AM, Apr 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-15 01:50:23-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — It’s National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week and to see what it's like to answer Pima County's calls for help, KGUN 9 went inside the dispatch center.

“911, where’s your emergency?”

911 dispatchers answer your calls on what might be the toughest day of your life.

“Sometimes people just think it’s another voice on the end of the phone, but we’re actually people too,” said Joanne Amstutz, dispatcher.

Amstutz has been a dispatcher for more than seven years and she says one of the hardest parts of her job is not being able to help people in person.

“We don’t always get closure. Sometimes in this job being able to live with the ‘well, I don’t really know what happened I’ll have to wait until the end of our shift ‘ is a big thing and it weighs on people’s minds because we do care about people,” she explained.

To see what it takes to be on their end of the line, she gave KGUN 9's Ciara Encinas a crash course lesson on how to take Pima County’s calls for help.

“I think the most important thing is you need to stay calm and get the information you need,” she said.

She said the biggest questions are:

  • Where the emergency is happening?
  • What’s going on?
  • Who’s involved?
  • How did it happen?

Then Amstutz put Ciara Encinas to the test. Encinas answered a few mock calls. She rated Encinas' skills a 7.

"It wasn’t bad. [You] just make sure you get the phone numbers of whoever is calling. [Also], anything with fighting involved, we want to know if there was any alcohol or drugs involved,” she said.

Like Amstutz explained, the job is rewarding because you know you’re helping people and sometimes it does come full circle for the people on the other end of the line.

“Sometimes it’s on the phone at the end and it’s like,’ hey thank you very much for helping me out,’ once the deputies get there and help them out and sometimes it’s after the fact when people take the time to write into our office of professional standards," she said.

The county is hiring more than a dozen dispatchers to fill their team.