BUCKHANNON – Three-hundred sixty-five days of the year, seven days a week, no matter the weather, emergency dispatchers at the Upshur County E911 Communication Center valiantly serve the public as the voice behind the phone.
As Doyle Cutright, director of the county’s E911 center, put it, 911 emergency telecommunicators are the first on the line in the emergency response system, often linking folks in dire situations to first responders.
“A lot of times because we’re kind of out of sight, out of mind, people kind of forget 911, but in all honesty, we provide life-saving medical information over the phone – how to do CPR, etc., so we’re just as much a part of that emergency first response system as anyone else,” he stressed. “And honestly, we should garner the same respect as a police officer or firefighter or an emergency medical technician or a medic. We’re all a part of the same team.”
With roughly 26-27,000 calls each year and 14 employees, Upshur County telecommunicators are constantly receiving a wave of emergency and non-emergency related calls at given time.
So, to help the dispatcher, the caller and first responders on duty – and in honor of National Telecommunicators Public Safety Week, which was April 14-20 – Cutright provided tips to My Buckhannon to pass along to the county residents.
Tip number one goes out to parents and other caretakers of infants and smaller children who may accidentally or purposely dial 911 in the event of a nonemergency. Cutright says Upshur County telecommunicators do encounter this.
“Every call to 911, we have to treat as an actual call, so parents who give their infant children or smaller children deactivated cellphones that have batteries can actually still dial 911,” explained Cutright, “but because the service is deactivated, we get limited information to locate where that call is coming from.”
Cutright advises caretakers to take the battery out of the phone before giving it to a child as a play toy.
Tip number two: in the case of any accidental misdial of 911, Cutright says it’s best to stay on the line.
“If someone accidentally dials 911, just stay on the line to speak with the 911 operator and advise them ‘I’m so sorry, this was a misdial’ because if they just hang up, now that telecommunicator has to go through the extra process of trying to reach that person back until we make contact,” he said.
Regarding motor vehicle accidents, Cutright suggests calling 911 directly if you become aware of a car accident.
“Instead of putting a third party in the mix, just dial 911 direct if you can because third party information is questionable at best,” he said. “Their information is going to be very limited.”
In that vein, another big issue that the Comm Center runs across is receiving multiple calls about the same vehicle accident with the same limited information. When possible as safety permits, ask the parties involved what services are needed.
“So, we will get multiple calls because people nowadays for safety issues we understand, they don’t stop to provide assistance, but we will get multiple calls, and the call information that we’ve obtained is the same,” he said. “By no means do we want to put somebody in danger, but if they can stop and say, ‘is everyone okay?’ or ‘does anyone need an ambulance?’ that’s very beneficial to us, so we can send the appropriate response.”
Another one of Cutright’s tips that will assist everyone involved is to make sure that your house is properly marked with your official E911 address, no matter if your live within city limits or out in the county. House numbers may be purchased at Lowe’s to mark dwellings, he said.
“(The number) should be located where it’s very visible in all lighting conditions – day and night,” Cutright said. “Preferably it should be reflective to help evening responses, and it needs to be visible from the front of the house.”
“I usually tell people to try to find a contracting color to the façade of your house that is reflective and place it near or around the visual front door because obviously that is where the emergency response vehicles will be approaching the residence,” he added.
And for something that is rather simple, Cutright said unmarked homes are common in Upshur County.
“You would be amazed at how many people don’t have their house properly marked,” he said. “They will mark their mailbox, but in Upshur County there are multiple residences along the same driveway, and so all the mailboxes are at the end of the roadway, and so we know that we’re in the area, but when we start driving up the driveway or these off roads then people don’t have their actual house marked.
“[We want people to know] that’s extremely beneficial, and that’s a simple fix to help assure that you’re getting a fast response.”
Another tidbit that is helpful to E911 dispatchers is that if a resident loses power, internet, water, etc., it’s important to call the utility company rather than 911. However, any animal abuse related calls should be directed to 911 as the county’s animal control officer will be contacted over the matter.