Mahaska County 911 Center Honored During Telecommunicator Week

Mahaska County 911 Dispatchers were honored this past week for their service and work to help the people of Mahaska County.

Mahaska County 911 Dispatchers were honored this past week for their service and work to help the people of Mahaska County.

Oskaloosa, Iowa – “911, Where’s your emergency?” Those words are spoken regularly by Mahaska County 911 Telecommunicators (Dispatchers) who answer the call for help when someone is having one of the worst days of their life.

Cheryl Eklofe is the Mahaska County 911 Director, and she and her family have been a part of emergency services for some time. Her mother was one of the first female firefighters when she served with the Cedar Township Fire Department.

Eklofe is not only 911 Director, having served with Mahaska County 911 for the past 24 years, but she also serves on the Cedar Township Fire Department, Fremont Ambulance, and is a reserve for the Oskaloosa Fire Department.

Telecommunicators have to help the caller through some of their strongest emotions to get the needed information, to get help on its way and inform first responders how best to help when they arrive.

For those having an emergency, seconds seem like minutes and the worry that responders haven’t yet made it to their emergency can become frustrating, often taking those angry emotions out on the 911 call taker.

“Sometimes it is difficult, and people, when they are in a stressful situation, time is of the essence, and we’ll get the complaints that it took an hour for them to get there, when in fact, it’s only been 10 minutes,” explained Eklofe.

When you dial 911, and either Eklofe or another telecommunicator answers your call, based upon the emergency, they will have a set of questions they will be asking you in order to help the first responders help you.

“We’ve gone through extensive training in here, so we have certain questions that we are going to ask on each and every call that comes in here,” explained Eklofe. “Those questions become very irritable to people, especially when they are in a situation where they want a quick response. They don’t understand that we have two people on duty, or that a unit has already been dispatched and that we’re going to continue to them while we have them on the line to make sure that something else isn’t happening or something else doesn’t happen while that unit is en route. We try to keep the units updated until they get there and to try to keep the person on the phone calm and collected.”

There is conversation happing to make 911 telecommunicators first responder status. For Eklofe, personally, she thinks it’s a good idea. “In my personal opinion, yes. I work on both sides of the road. I’m out in the field. I go out and meet the people, but, in here, we also meet the people, and sometimes we meet the people that, they’re very abrasive to us. Once the officer gets there, or after the fire gets there, or the ambulance gets there, they’ve got their anger out, because they’ve taken it out on us. Those calls go home with us, just as they do the first responders that go out and actually see the scenes. A lot of times, we’ll draw a verbal picture and then we don’t ever get whatever happened. Once that call is finished, unless an officer comes back and talks to us, we’re not going to know what even happened for the conclusion of that call.”

Dealing with the stress that comes with helping others creates a bond among those who work within the emergency dispatch center.

“This is a family here. We are all family,” Eklofe explains. “We have our work family. We have our home family. A lot of time your dispatchers are working the holidays, the weekends, they work nights, twenty-four/seven, so that somebody is here answering your call to see if you need help and to send help as quickly as possible.”

Mahaska County 911 telecommunicators receive all sorts of calls, “People don’t understand what the calls pertain to here,” said Eklofe. “Yes, we get the barking dogs. Yes, we get the parking complaints. But we also get those medical emergencies where people’s lives are on the line. We also get those calls where your house is burning down, the disaster that’s happening. Those are personal to us, and each and every one of our staff members, they take it personal and they do the best job that they can.”

Telecommunicators have to find a way to deal with life and death calls; mothers in fear because their baby isn’t breathing, or a husband in a panic because his wife isn’t responding after a traffic accident.

“There’s some calls that have been very hard on our staff,” explains Eklofe. Staff is given opportunities to talk through the call in a debriefing session. “We try to look after our staff. We come in and talk to our staff. If they’ve taken a bad call, let’s talk about it. Everything that goes on in here behind the doors stays here. You don’t take it home. You go home, you still have it on your mind, but you don’t discuss it with your family at home. You discuss it with your family here. So you sit and you talk and you try to find some kind of way to get a finalizing on it, so you can deal with it. I know that some of the girls, and I’ll say the girls because these particular calls were taken by the girls, not that we don’t have the guys who’ve taken some bad calls too, but these two that I’m thinking of in my mind, they also have family members within that age group as well. So those calls are very, very difficult for them. So those ones, you just kind of look after your people. You’ve got your people you work with on a daily basis, you talk among yourselves that way, but if you’re still not dealing with it, then it comes across my desk or Jamey’s [Robinson] desk and we’ll bring in the debriefing team so you can finally get some peace to that call.”

“I have one incident that I took back in my dispatching time, and it’s been several years since this happened. Probably at least 10 to 12 years ago,” Eklofe says thinking of that call. “But there are certain things that will spark that call, and it’s right back forefront. You never forget, you just learn how to deal with it and just keep moving on.”

“I think that the Mahaska County 911 Center has a very dedicated staff,” Eklofe said. “Everyone is willing to help each other. They are here to help the public. They’re here. They’re doing the job, and I think they just need a lot of appreciation.”

Posted by on Apr 21 2019. Filed under Local News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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