Holidays don’t diminish dispatchers’ duties |

Holidays don’t diminish dispatchers’ duties

Greg Masse

Unfortunately, car accidents, crime and medical emergencies take no holiday. So, in turn, those who take emergency calls from people reporting such incidents can’t take a holiday either.

So Christmas Day was just another day for dispatchers Carl, Mandy and Amanda at the Garfield County Communications Center in Rifle.

And while each may have preferred to sit at home with their families watching some TV and opening presents, the three dispatchers, who declined to give their last names, seemed to be enjoying their holiday just the same.

“It’s just how the schedule falls,” said Amanda, who has been working at the dispatch center for just under a year.

The light snow that fell across the region on Christmas Eve and into Christmas Day made for a fairly busy morning at the dispatch center.

“With the snow it was a little busy,” said Carl, a 10-year dispatching veteran and assistant director of the center. “This time of year with the accidents . we get busy.”

The center in Rifle, which opened less than two years ago, is stocked with state-of-the-art equipment and six dispatchers’ areas. The 20 full-time employees and five part-timers have access to a National Crime Information Computer database. They also have a “computer aided dispatching system,” where they enter each call and it keeps track of them.

Then there’s the radio screen, which allows dispatchers to program-in the radio frequencies they’re responsible for. If they need to send an emergency crew somewhere, it takes just the click of a mouse to page them.

“Each has a different tone for paging. They go by radio and by pager,” Carl explained.

The radio computers can also set off the Remote Automated Weather Stations, which were placed in mudslide-prone areas after the fires last summer.

Then, all the way to the dispatchers’ right, there’s the all-important telephone. It’s not like a normal telephone, however. Rather, these phones are about two feet by two feet and have numerous lines going in and out – including six inbound 911 lines.

“When I first started, there was a dispatch in Parachute, Rifle and Glenwood,” Carl said.

Now, all of those centers have been consolidated in the building on the hill overlooking Rifle, at 585 E. 1st St.

At 11:24 Christmas morning, the on-duty dispatchers were able to show a real-life example of how the system works.

A car accident was reported in the westbound lane of Interstate 70 inside the No Name Tunnel at the west end of Glenwood Canyon.

After that first call, the lines lit up like a Christmas tree for the next five minutes or so.

“Does it look like anyone was injured?” Mandy asked one of the callers.

Once such questions are answered, dispatchers call the appropriate emergency crews and wait to listen if anything else is needed.

“It’s very typical to receive multiple calls,” Carl said. “It helps if they know where they are.”

That’s because for each call, the dispatchers must be sure that they’re hearing calls for the same accident and that another, similar-sounding accident hasn’t happened.

All in all, the dispatchers working Wednesday seemed to be happy with their jobs.

“It’s a cool job,” Amanda said. “The first day can be kind of scary, but it’s interesting, too.”

“It’s something different,” Carl added.

But as much as Mandy likes her job, she pointed out that “people don’t generally call us because they’re in a good mood.”

At exactly 11:44 a.m. (exactly because the clock at the communications center is automatically set by the atomic clock in Boulder) another accident happened in Glenwood Canyon.

“People just drive too fast. They’re in too much of a rush,” Amanda said.

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