OSKALOOSA — Moments of crisis have a way of either flying by or dragging on forever. The minutes that pass between a car accident, house fire, medical emergency or other crisis and the arrival of help are often the longest of a person’s life, and they’re spent on the phone with some of the most overlooked members of emergency services: the 911 dispatchers who connect people in need with the lifesaving services that are there to help.
“You never know what any day is going to bring. You never know what any call is going to bring,” said Patti Sines, who has worked as a 911 dispatcher in Mahaska County for 22 years and says she still loves her job.
It takes a level head and lots of training to handle a crisis the way a 911 dispatcher does, and emergency services like the Oskaloosa Police Department and Mahaska Health Emergency Services say that the Mahaska County 911 Dispatch is the best of the best.
That excellence and experience are good things for the 911 center to have on its side, since the work that the dispatchers do often happens when 911 callers are at their most panicked and incoherent. Sines walked The Herald through the process that dispatchers use in emergencies so that they can get help to callers as soon as possible.
“First of all, we want to know where you’re at, so we’ve got to have a good address, and that’s the first thing we would do when you call in. We will put your location in our CAD system, and then we want you to confirm it, so we want you to repeat that to us to make sure we’ve got it.” Sines said that the confirmation of location is essential to getting help on the scene as quickly as possible–even if callers are sometimes too panicked to appreciate the necessity.
[We want] your name, of course, and your phone number to call you back in case we get disconnected, and then whatever your emergency is, you know, if it’s a fire or if it’s a medical thing. We’ll ask you questions about that.” All the while, Sines demonstrated how a dispatcher multitasks to send out help as the call is still ongoing, sending out help as efficiently as possible so that emergency services can arrive as soon as they can–and the emergency services team members appreciate their efforts.
“It’s an excellent 911 center; they really are,” said Mike Lang, the Emergency Services Director at Mahaska Health Emergency Services. Lang is an RN and paramedic who works closely with the 911 center to respond to Mahaska County medical emergencies. “They do the medical dispatching and everything, which helps us out tremendously.”
“I would take our [Mahaska County] dispatch over any dispatch center, probably in the US, just because of how knowledgeable they are in any given situation,” said Officer Alex Sirovy of the Oskaloosa Police Department. “If we don’t have a dispatch, we don’t succeed.”
The 911 center, spearheaded by Mahaska County EMA Jamey Robinson, who brings experience as both a paramedic and a fireman to the job, frequently participates in trainings to achieve and maintain that level of excellence. Currently, the center is doing a training on school shootings. Previously the center has done trainings on how to dispatch medical and fire emergencies, all in an effort to be the best that they can be because, as Sines says, “We are the ones behind the scenes. When you have an emergency, we are the first people you hear.”
It’s difficult to be that first point of contact sometimes. “I’ve had some really bad calls and things that will stay with me for life,” Sines said. “But I feel like I did the best that I could with those and helped in every way I could.” Those seem to be words that the Mahaska County 911 Center lives by. Do the best, and be helpful. According to the people who serve Mahaska County as first responders, they are achieving that, and more.