She considers herself a lifeline to the masses.

And after 27 years of dealing with every conceivable crisis and taking hundreds of thousands of irate phone calls, one might expect vinegar.But sit down with Jan Roberts, a dispatch supervisor with the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office, and you'll often get plenty of sugar and spice.

"I love my job," she says, surrounded by a cacophony of endless telephone rings, static police-band radio traffic and general office noise. "You have to be tough, and I'm not saying I've always been absolutely ecstatic working here the past 27 years of my life, but I really love what I do."

Indeed, one would have to muster an intense commitment to the work as Roberts described the roller coaster of emotions that accompanies one of the more stress-filled jobs around.

"It's definitely a different challenge," she said. "I've gone home in tears and I've gone home elated. There are a lot of tragedies, but there are a lot of heroics out there. Let's just say I work with a great bunch of people."

With her headset on and her eyes fixed to several large monitors inside the county emergency management center, next to the Salt Lake County Metro Jail, Roberts - Mrs. Roberts to her friends - handles the bevy of incoming calls like a pro. That's something she strongly emphasizes her crew of eight dispatchers and five supervisors are.

"We look at this job as a professional one. We're not just run-of-the-mill people here taking phone calls and running around," she said.

The professionalism also helps police dispatchers endure the bad days.

Her worst one? That's easy.

A cold afternoon on Jan. 15, 1987, in a quiet Kearns neighborhood.

Around 1 p.m. a private aircraft smashed into a SkyWest Metroliner with eight passengers as the larger plane was preparing to land at Salt Lake International Airport. The collision was deafening to area residents and horrifying to witnesses.

Ten dead. Nearby schoolchildren detailing graphic eyewitness accounts to TV stations and newspaper reporters. FAA and NTSB investigations. In the end, it was dubbed the worst aviation accident in Salt Lake County in two decades.

And Roberts took the calls. In less than two hours more than 50 people telephoned, many to report body parts or bits of the two planes which had fallen in their front lawns.

"It was nuts. And it was horrible," she said.

She was quick to point, however, that her job is not always chaos and misery.

"I've seen some big changes in how we look at and deal with domestic violence," she said. "It was different 27 years ago. Now I think the system gives law enforcement (officers) a follow-through with their investigations.

"The courts are finally taking it serious, and I think the greatest thing is that women are getting more self-respect."

As Roberts discussed how dispatchers try to relax from their hectic duties outside the communications center - some read, some watch television, others have fun with their families - it's back to work as a Code-1 (top priority emergency) 10-80 (chase in progress) is called out.

"Here we go again," she said, her veteran leadership and experience counting when it's needed.