TRUSTED NEWS LEADER FOR COTTONWOOD, CAMP VERDE & THE VERDE VALLEY
Wed, July 08

VERDE VALLEY CORONAVIRUS HEROES: In their own words, dispatchers describe pandemic challenges

From the left, Elaina Avila, Jennifer Noss and Amber Presmyk are masked up and ready for duty at the Cottonwood Public Safety Communications Center. Adjustments for the staff have included additional health questions in screening callers and finding ways to get errands such as shopping done while working 12-hour shifts as stores reduce their hours. Courtesy photo

From the left, Elaina Avila, Jennifer Noss and Amber Presmyk are masked up and ready for duty at the Cottonwood Public Safety Communications Center. Adjustments for the staff have included additional health questions in screening callers and finding ways to get errands such as shopping done while working 12-hour shifts as stores reduce their hours. Courtesy photo

COTTONWOOD – Asking people over the phone about personal health circumstances never gets easier, emergency dispatchers say.

Of course, what has been easy, for any first responders, during the COVID-9 pandemic?

Marie Carpenter, the manager of the Cottonwood Police Department Communications Center, helped coordinate responses to a single Verde Independent question posed to dispatch staff: What special challenges has the pandemic put in your path?

Here are their responses, each written in first person.

Communications Manager Marie Carpenter

Working in Public Safety Communications during the COVID-19 pandemic has been very challenging, and, also, strangely enough, very rewarding.

Public safety communications specialists are adaptable and resilient. They work in challenging, stressful environments, with rapidly changing situations on a daily basis.

They excel during fast-paced, high-stress incidents. During the first few days and weeks, with “stay at home” orders and school closures, new directives and procedural changes were being issued to our public safety communications specialists faster than an officer calling out a pursuit.

It put a different kind of stress on our employees. They all want to perform at the highest level, and for most of them, it felt like hitting a moving target.

It has been very rewarding to witness how well our employees not only adapt to change, but also work to help each other.

We could not order or buy a forehead scanning thermometer anywhere, but specialist Emily Reed brought one in from home that we could use, and are still using.

We had to restrict access to the center. That was very difficult for our specialists; after a major incident, the dispatchers do not always get to find out about the outcome. It really helps close the loop when a police officer or firefighter can stop by the center after an incident and let the dispatchers know “the rest of the story.”

Sure, responders can call into dispatch on the phone, but it is not the same. The connection to the other members of our first responder family and the camaraderie was sorely missed.

While it is not much of a consolation, we are allowing our employees to dress down instead of wearing uniforms. It really seems to be lifting spirits in the center.

Communications specialist/trainer Cassie Bailey

It was really tough when daycare centers were closed. My dad is a firefighter and would typically watch my kids for me while I am work, but we were really concerned about exposure in his line of work.

I am really honored to work with such an amazing team. My co-workers and I worked out a plan to trade off babysitting each other’s children.

We are a family. We help each other out.

Communications specialist Alexis James

My husband is a firefighter, so we were always concerned about exposure within our family and workplace. I had to stay home for a few days when we had to get tested.

Co-workers went to the store for us and helped cover shifts. Glad to be back to work, but I do have to say that working 12-hour shifts and trying to get to the grocery store either before or after work — when the store hours are limited — has been really tough.

Communications specialist Jennifer Noss

It is my responsibility to keep our responders and the community safe. I take that very seriously.

When we were given the direction to screen calls for COVID symptoms, so that we could alert our responders to take extra precautions to avoid exposure, I understood the importance and do my best to get that information as quickly as possible.

I know that when someone calls 9-1-1, they are scared and frustrated or sick or injured, so being asked extra questions can really seem like an inconvenience. Sometimes, people get really impatient with the screening questions and I do empathize with their frustration, but we have to do our best to keep everyone safe.

On the flip side, it is really rewarding when a caller says, “Thank you (for being diligent in screening calls for coronavirus).”

Communications supervisor Tyler Dietel

It was difficult when the “stay at home” order first came out. There seemed to be a lot of confusion within the community about what activities were permitted.

We received quite a few calls from people asking if they were allowed to go to the store or even leave their house or what they should do if they think they have been exposed. We were learning the details as they were.

As a new supervisor, I have been assigned the task of processing new applicants for the position of Communications Specialist.

We have a few openings. A major step in our hiring process has been having the applicant sit in the center and observe the operation.

It really gives them an idea of the nature of the work and team culture. Since access to our center has been restricted, we have not been able to allow applicants in our center and I feel that they are really missing out on an important step.

All in all, though, seeing how all of our people come together to help each other out has been really rewarding, whether it is swapping shifts to help with daycare or knowing that Supervisor Melanie Corsette keeps extra toilet paper in her vehicle for our employees — just in case they run out and can’t getting any at the store. They all just really look out for each other.

We do get a great deal of appreciation from the responders that we are doing everything we can to get them safe.

Communications specialist Jesse Smith

Working the night shift, we would often order take out for dinner. When restaurants or stores were either closed or had limited hours, it was a convenience we had to live without.

It is nice that we have a full kitchen in our building right next to the communications room, so it is getting used quite a bit lately.

Communications specialist Eric Maldonado

There really isn’t a way for us to work from home and isolate from others. Our job just doesn’t work that way. We have a large center and we can social distance, to a point.

We share chairs, desks, and keyboards and telephones. We have keyboard covers and clean constantly, but we’re still in a confined space and not completely safe from exposure.

Communications specialist/trainer Jessica Ojeda

A co-worker’s friend made some homemade masks for us to wear, but it was really hard for people to understand me on the telephone or while talking on the radio.

I think that it is great that people go out of their way to help us especially when it is our job to help others.

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