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Butte 911 dispatchers take on challenging, stressful job

Posted at 3:47 PM, Apr 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-24 18:56:09-04

BUTTE – “911 Butte, what is your emergency?”

Dispatchers are usually the first people to respond in a crisis.

“It takes a special person to work in a dispatch center. It’s not your run-of-the-mill job; it’s a really high-stress environment. There’s not a lot of recognition,” said Butte Sheriff Ed Lester.

Dispatcher Barb Gray has been able to thrive in this environment for 40 years.

“I like helping people. It’s never the same job each day,” said Gray.

Butte Dispatch averages about 150 calls a day ranging from a loose dog to life-or-death emergency.

“I wish it could always be a happy outcome on all my calls, but that’s not necessarily true. Some of the calls you get, you get emotionally drained on, you know, you keep it together until the call is over and then sit back and deflate,” said Gray.

Dispatchers are trained in crisis intervention because they’re often the first people to be in contact with somebody going through a stressful situation. And that helps law enforcement.

“You look at it, they really start the play and so if they can get things calmed down on the front end of a call it’s a huge benefit to everybody who responds,” said the sheriff.

A dispatcher’s ability to multitask is even more important today because everybody carries a cellphone with them and that means one incident can produce multiple calls at one time.

“A lot of times you get 25 or 30 calls on one single incident. All those calls have to be answered because we never know if they’re coming in on the same accident that the other calls are or could be some other accident or emergency in some other part of the county,” said Lester.

Gray added, “My thing that I do is I’ll start humming a song, you know, a Christmas song or something like that to calm me down, answer the phone, go on to the next call and just it’s the way of relieving some of the tension for me.”

Remaining calm during a crisis. The 12 dispatchers in Butte handle about 33,000 calls a year.

Reporting by John Emeigh for MTN News