Staff Photo: Erin Evans. Edmetris Moore, 28, is a six-year veteran of the Covington-Newton County Communications Center. Many emergency dispatchers don't work in the profession that long due to the stress that goes with the job.
COVINGTON -- Unseen and often under appreciated, 911 dispatchers are honored this week to remind residents of their importance.
The Covington-Newton County Communications Center is joining in National Public Safety Telecommunications Week, which started Sunday and runs through Saturday, by recognizing their 28 employees for the work they do 24 hours a day.
"They do an excellent job. We've got some of the best there are out there. I'll put my folks up against anybody," said Director Mike Smith. "I've done many things in law enforcement -- headed up the drug unit, was on SWAT, investigations, everything -- and in public safety, this is by far the most difficult job, hands down. Maybe not the most dangerous, but it is the most difficult because you've got so many things going on at one time."
The job is considered one of the highest stress-inducing vocations, and for that reason long-term employees are a rarity.
"Turnover in 911 is extremely high," Smith said. "But we're not as high here as the national average, and we're proud of that."
It's not just one aspect of the job that produces stress, Smith said, but several aspects.
"It's the responsibility and then day-to-day not knowing what's going to go on," he said. "You could come in here and everything be very quiet and then all of a sudden, everything breaks loose. Also, it's the type of calls you have ... and the sense you have of not feeling like you're in control."
The responsibility lies with dispatching the right emergency people to the right spot and then staying in touch with those personnel to make sure they remain safe, while keeping a distressed caller on the phone who may need CPR instructions for a loved one or who is fearing for their own life.
But those very aspects of the job are what keeps the dispatchers who do choose it as a career coming back for more.
Dispatcher Ashley Durand, 23, will mark her second year at the center in June. Her favorite part of her job is that it's different every day.
"You don't ever know what you're coming into," she said.
Amanda Cummings, 26, has been on the switchboard for more than six years and she said she, too, likes the variety and she'd probably be bored to death if she worked at another job.
"I've seen and heard a lot. It can be fast-paced," she said. "I just like the job in general."
As to stress, she said, "It can be stressful for some people, and it depends on what you did that day ... if you take a bad call, it can be stressful at times, but not very often. You don't stay stressed out."
Smith said hiring could be a challenge because many times people try the job and find that it's not their cup of tea.
"We try to make sure (job applicants) know they're not going to just be a switchboard operator. You're not just answering phones ... you have public safety people -- police officers, firefighters, EMTs -- whose lives are in your hands that you're supposed to be looking out for. Then you have the lives of the citizens in your hands as well. It's a huge responsibility," he said. "We have them talk with dispatchers, talk with police officers, people who can tell them what's it about. When we've done that in the past, we do have people say, 'Nope, that's not what I want to do.'"
Smith said he'd found that many residents were not even aware that there is a 911 Communications Center in the county and never gave a thought as to how the ambulance got to the right house or how the police officer arrived quickly.
"They're the unseen heroes. When somebody calls 911 because they have a fire, they're thinking they're calling the fire department. When they need a police officer, they call 911 and they think they're calling the sheriff's office. They don't realize these people are here an they're talking to them," Smith said. "They're the ones who are the real first responders because they're the first ones the public has contact with in a crisis."
Edmetris Moore, 28, has been with the center for six years and recalled one of her most stressing calls.
"I remember a few years ago, I took this call where a lady called and said she had been shot," Moore said. "She was screaming, 'I've just been shot. I've just been shot.' Of course, I got all the information from her. She was still alive initially, but later she died. That one really sticks out in my mind. Actually, I had to go to court on that same call and that really brought it back like it was just yesterday."
But, even with the sadness, she was quick to say she liked her job because, "Every day it's something different, and you might help save somebody's life."