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COOK COUNTY CONNECTIONS: National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week is April 11-17, 2021

Apr 02, 2021 03:43PM ● By Editor
By Cook County Sheriff Pat Eliasen of Cook County Law Enforcement - April 2, 2021

When you dial 911 or call the Cook County Sheriff’s Office for an emergency, the dispatcher will be the first person you speak to. These are the people who sit in a locked area for 12-hour shifts and greet the public with a friendly, strong, professional, compassionate voice in times of crisis. These superstars are expected to multi-task on a level that would make a professional gamer cringe and do it with a significant amount of intelligence and empathy. It may be difficult to imagine, but envision receiving a phone call and the person on the other end of the call is having the worst day of their life. Envision what you would say to that person in an attempt to calm them while at the same time notifying several agencies to mobilize and respond, ensuring they all get to the appropriate location in a timely fashion. While you conceive this, put a timer on and expect to complete all these tasks in less than a minute. To say that our dispatchers are extraordinary and exceptional would not be enough credit for the job they perform.

Some of the duties they perform are:

  • Answering 911 calls in a proficient and timely manner, providing instructions over the phone for CPR and other lifesaving measures before the arrival of emergency medical staff, fire department and law enforcement staff. 
  • Completing many annual hours of continuing education to maintain licensing and stay current with ever-changing procedures.
  • Make inquiries to respective callers and gain valuable information for responding to staff under herculean stress due to emergency situations. 

The most significant burden of the job may actually come after work hours, striving to live a normal life for their families and friends while their mind replays the anguish from a caller who may have lost a loved one or who experienced a life-changing situation. For most of us in public safety, there is a process that can serve as closure because we were on-scene and can witness the events. For dispatchers they are left in the dark after the phone line goes blank and must try to process that until a time where they can find their closure.

Dispatchers shine through that darkness like a small golden light in someone’s darkest day. It’s a light of hope that we are sending help, and while our callers wait, we are reaching through the phone to hold your hand, to be by your side and help you through CPR or comfort you until others arrive. Dispatchers must be able to make quick decisions, think without supervision and keep situational awareness front and center in all their calls. Officer safety is the number one priority, and it is their duty to make sure co-workers, who are considered brothers and sisters, go home after each shift to their loved ones.

Our mission statement at the Cook County Sheriff’s Office is, “To serve, and provide public safety with fairness and respect.” This is not only a mission statement, but it is the unwritten code by which the dispatchers conduct their daily tasks. I liken them to a sponge in the sense that they soak up everything that gets dumped on them and are still present to take on another mess when it comes their way. They can hang up the phone or get off the radio with a horrendous event and turn around to speak with someone looking to ask about the road conditions with a smile on their face.

Not all heroes wear capes, but they do wear headsets.    


County Connections is a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County – Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service.


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