Police dispatchers do everything with their ears. And their voices. And their intuition.
From behind their communications consoles in a semi-dark room, dispatchers act as long-distance seeing-eye dogs. They have to assess life-or-death situations in seconds without actually being there.Dispatchers guide hysterical parents through the procedure to dislodge a piece of licorice from a choking child's throat. They send paramedics to the home of a heart attack victim with as much information about his condition as they can extract. They direct police to the correct address of a traffic accident.
Sgt. Tom Nielsen called dispatchers the department's "lifeline." Police rely on them to relay accurate information. "That makes it safer for us," he said.
Dispatching is exciting work. It's stressful.
It's also rewarding. Or is it? "Sometimes it's not," said Diana Boyd, a Provo police dispatcher. "On a lot of the calls we don't know the outcome to reap a reward, but that's our job." Boyd said the payoff comes when everything goes smoothly.
While situational rewards might be seldom, Boyd and Suzy Tangren, another Provo dispatcher, were recently honored for their outstanding work the past year.
Boyd, 32, was named Dispatcher of the Year by the state Bureau of Emergency Medical Services. She has dispatched for Provo police the past seven years.
The Police Department recognized Tangren, 24, as Provo's Police and Fire Dispatcher of the Year.
Tangren recently helped save the life of a 7-year-old girl. A mother called 911 saying her daughter was having difficulty breathing due to an allergic reaction to a medication. Tangren, who has dispatched for about 18 months, didn't feel the woman's information was accurate, so she sent an officer to the home.
The officer found the girl in full cardiac arrest. Police revived the child with cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
Dispatchers not only listen to what people say, they listen to how they say things. The tone of a caller's voice reveals much about a situation.
"You get used to how people's voices sound. You can tell if they're not quite sure or if they're not telling the truth," Tangren said.
Boyd and Tangren agree it takes a certain type of person to be a dispatcher.
"You have to be assertive and you have to make decisions quickly," Boyd said. "You have to take control."
Dispatchers also must be able to disassociate themselves from sometimes heart-wrenching situations. But that's not to say they're unfeeling.
The emotions flow after the work is done, Boyd said.