When members of the public find themselves in a crisis and need to call 9-1-1, they tend to think of law enforcement officers. But what is often forgotten in the emergency response chain are what some call the “FIRST first responders.”
Who are they? The 911 telecommunicators at the Columbus-Platte County Joint Communications Center. These are the people who you first contact when calling 9-1-1 or for non-emergency calls in some cases.
National Public Safety Telecommunications Week (NPSTW) is observed every second week in April as a way to recognize and celebrate the work of telecommunicators helping to save millions of lives every day.
The local JCC handles dispatch for Platte and Polk counties. Under its umbrella are 11 fire departments, two sheriff’s offices and two police departments.
“In my 34 years at the Columbus Police Department, I have found that dispatchers are the unsung heroes of public safety. These are the individuals who answer calls for help from people in distress and have to remain calm. They are the starting of the emergency response process, yet they rarely know the outcome nor do they get to see the faces of those they helped,” Columbus Police Capt. Doug Molczyk said.
“Their ability to multi-task is second to none. They can talk on the phone, type into multiple computer systems, and hear and answer radio traffic from multiple agencies without missing a beat. They are my heroes and I appreciate all that they do.”
JCC Communications Director Rachel Pensick said she’s proud of her team, noting it’s a good mix of experienced and fresh faces.
“We have a great team and they do a great job,” she said.
The JCC is supposed to have 12 dispatchers and four lead dispatchers when fully staffed, though some positions are currently open. Pensick said she’s hopeful the JCC can add some more talented people to its team.
“It can be a thankless job at times, but it’s also very rewarding. You know you’re helping people,” Pensick said. “It definitely takes a special person to do it.”
Columbus Fire Chief Ryan Gray praised the JCC for its efforts in helping law enforcement and fire and rescue officials, as well as the community as a whole.
“Not only are our dispatchers the ones that the public calls when they need help, but they are also the ones who we rely on in the field when we need help. Our dispatchers are the very first of first responders. Without them, we would not be as efficient and effective as we are,” Gray said.
“For me, it is nice to know that they are just on the other side of the radio, and serve as my second set of ears when we are operating on hazardous incidents.”
Those interested in applying for a position at the JCC can get an application on the City of Columbus’ website or stop by City Hall, 2424 14th St. in downtown Columbus, to pick one up.