AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — When an emergency or crisis strikes, like a parent’s having chest pains, a serious car wreck on I-40, maybe you smell smoke in your home or see flames or a baby isn’t breathing, we all know to dial 9-1-1 for help.
But have you ever wondered who it is that you’re speaking with on the other end of the line?
We’re going to introduce you to some of the men and women who are the first line of defense in Amarillo’s first response.
Meet some of the voices behind 911.
It’s the three-digit code you dial in a crisis situation.
Whether you need police, fire, or EMS, that reassuring voice on the other end of the line is there 24/7/365, taking about 400 911 calls a day.
“We’re the first line of defense for crisis in the community,” said Capt. Jeremy Hill, Captain/911 Manager, Amarillo Fire Department.
The Amarillo Emergency Communication Center or AECC, is where it all goes down. It opened in 2009, and consolidated police, fire, EMS and animal control.
Captain Hill is one of the people in charge.
“Having everything together is so much more efficient, so much more effective. If there’s any questions that dispatcher has, they don’t have to pick up the phone and call somebody. And that helps immensely making sure that we’re getting the right things and the right people to the place that they need to be,” he explained.
The right people, who wear multiple hats on the same shift.
“Dispatch for fire is one hat, PD dispatch is another hat, EMS dispatch is another hat,” he noted.
Next up, call taker, where you may act as a neighborhood watch on one call, to a therapist on the next.
“I might answer questions about the stray dog next door or the barking dog next door, and I hang up that phone call and the very next one, I’ve got somebody threatening to hang themselves. And so the hats that they’ve got to take on and off, it comes down to the training,” he told KAMR.
One of those highly trained professionals is Haylie Garrett, a newly signed-off Telecommunicator.
“It’s fast paced,” she said excitedly. “That’s what I like.”
The most challenging part of the job, “if they’re all frantic, and I can’t understand them, I’m like, okay, take a deep breath, tell me exactly what happened. They do need that reassurance,” she said.
On the flip side, she said the best part is, “it makes me feel good. Because I know I’m not on scene, but I’m helping as best as I can,” she added.
Years of service at the center can vary, from a telecommunicator fresh out of training, to a seasoned vet of 10 years, like Emergency Communications Specialist Lindzee Smith.
“I actually originally intended to be a police officer,” Smith told KAMR.
“I dispatch on the police side. So calls come in by different priorities, and we dispatch officers according to calls, they’re more important as opposed to calls that are more routine or report calls.” she said, notating the required skill of being able multi-task.
To more administrative tasks, “teletype it is more, we run people, we run vehicles, we can enter things as stolen, we can enter people as missing that kind of thing,” she explained.
So, for Smith, what challenges do the job present to her?
“The rough side is that nobody calls you on a good day, and so there’s a lot of negative things that you have to deal with. We deal with people in crisis all the time. Thankfully, we have resources where we can, you know, have help for that and learn how to process things,” she said emphatically.
Smith said as challenging as the job can be, helping people work through crisis never gets old.
“It’s rewarding to help people. So it always makes us feel good. When somebody says, you know, thank you, you made my call it better you calm me down and that kind of thing. It’s also rewarding to help find the bad guys,” she said excitedly.
And for these communicators, it’s not just a day’s work.
“You’ve got to have a heart geared for this, you really do,” Captain Hill.
It’s truly a calling.