2018-04-06 / In the Know

A week dedicated to nation’s public safety dispatchers

By B. Michael Thurlow Special to the Leader

Each year, the second full week of April is dedicated to the men and women who serve as public safety telecommunicators.

This year we honor the often unsung heroes of public safety, our dispatchers, during the week of April 8-14. Every emergency that a police officer or firefighter responds to either starts with, or is handled by, one of our public safety dispatchers. They are truly on the front line and are generally the first person a citizen deals with during a crisis.

In the Scarborough Public Safety Dispatch Center we are fortunate to have 13 full-time compassionate, professional dispatchers.

Each dispatcher is certified in emergency medical dispatching and licensed through Maine Emergency Medical Services.

They are also certified in the emergency fire dispatch protocols, Enhanced 911 (E911) operations and are certified terminal operators so they can access the state and federal crime databases.

Scarborough is very fortunate to be one of only 26 Public Safety Answering Points (PSAP) in the state of Maine.

This means that when a 911 call comes in for the town of Scarborough, it generally comes directly to us, without the additional step of being transferred from another agency.

There are a minimum of two dispatchers working 24 hours a day, seven days a week and more during peak times or significant events.

Scarborough’s dispatchers not only answer emergency calls for the over 20,000 residents of Scarborough; but they also answer 911 emergency calls for Buxton, and in 2014 we started providing the town of Old Orchard Beach with full dispatch and PSAP services. This has been a mutually beneficial arrangement where Old Orchard contracts with Scarborough for the service which allowed us to hire more staff that jointly improves operations for both communities.

When answering 911 calls the dispatcher asks a series of questions of every caller.

The first three questions, perhaps the most important of them all, are:

 What is the address of the emergency?

 What is the phone number you’re calling from?

 and tell me exactly what happened?

Depending on the type of emergency, there will be other questions that will be asked in order to determine the proper emergency response needed for the specific incident.

They follow a set of carefully structured protocols that guide them through the questions according to the type of emergency.

These protocols help the dispatcher guide the caller through CPR, the Heimlich maneuver for someone choking, controlling bleeding and even child birth.

Through these questions they ask they are able to update responding police, fire, and rescue personnel so they are better prepared to assist you when they arrive on scene.

The dispatcher’s duties don’t stop at just answering 911 calls, they also include dispatching police, fire and rescue services, coordinating efforts with the public works Department, Community Services and the sanitary district; answering the business phone lines with general questions and complaints, greeting citizens in the lobby of the police station and several other tasks as assigned by the officers and firefighters.

Although they never know what might be happening on the other end of the line each time they answer the phone, you can be assured whether it is as straightforward as a lost dog or as complex as a structure fire, the professionals in Scarborough’s Public Safety Dispatch Center are prepared to answer your call.

During National Telecommunicators Week we make an extra effort to salute and thank them for the critical service they provide to our community.

If you have any questions about this article or any fire department issue you may contact me at mthurlow@scarboroughmaine.org or 730-4201.

B. Michael Thurlow is fire chief for Scarborough.

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