Most of us like to think we are good at juggling many tasks at one time. In the Otter Tail County Dispatch Center, multitasking is a fine art. The public can be confident that when an emergency call is placed to 9-1-1 a qualified and well-trained communication officer in the dispatch center will professionally support and assist you as needed.
The four lines that service 911 calls get busy. The dispatch center serves not only the Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Office but also seven police departments, 17 fire and rescue squads, plus local EMS teams, and serves as backup to multiple surrounding counties. They operate county-wide sirens, such as the National Weather Service Center calls for severe weather notices, and communicate statewide on the shared radio system. They assist DNR and Highway Patrol Officers and have Otter Tail County Public Works Department on the radios, too. Sometimes all at the same time.
The dispatchers not only take and make calls, but they must monitor maps of vehicle locations and watch four computer-assisted dispatching (CAD) screens while having awareness of what situations the other dispatchers are assisting. This team is busy and their intense and specialized training shows in their work for the public well-being.
The dispatcher’s dedication to serving people is evident in their professionalism when speaking to callers. According to communications officer Marco Picchiarini, the job can be mentally taxing. “You gotta keep rolling, but some days it feels like I went nine rounds with Mike Tyson,” Picchiarini said. Picchiarini notes that mental health calls have been skyrocketing in the past few years. Law enforcement officers are typically sent to these calls because there are few alternatives. For example, a 911 call came in and the caller needed someone to “Just come talk to my family.” An officer was sent to her home.
Often, the dispatch center becomes the “catch-all” for problems. Adam Barry, communications officer, relayed a story of a 94-year-old woman who couldn’t get her TV remote to work. She called 911. She was clearly upset but the dispatcher calmly spoke to her. Obviously, this was not an emergency, but dispatchers sent an officer to her home and helped her change the batteries. It was not a lifesaving moment, but it meant a great deal to an elderly woman all alone.
Compassionate, calm and able to prioritize are the qualifications Jason Karlgaard, dispatch supervisor, says it takes to become a successful communications officer. As one can imagine those answering the phones are hearing one cry for help after another. It is a lot of crisis for one individual to provide front line support. The success stories, however, remind the officers of the importance of their role. Communications officers are required to be certified in CPR as when a call came in and an officer had to talk a young mother through the steps to save her one-year-old child. He calmly talked to her and the child’s life was saved.
“We want to help people, it is why we are here. We rely on our training, common sense and the ability to multitask,” Picchiarini said. “We have a good team. We can count on each other.”
The public can count on the communication officers in the Otter Tail County Dispatch Center, too. The team in the dispatch center uses their training daily to help people, save lives and to support all those in public safety. County residents are in good hands.