The Athens Review
For more than 20 years National Public Safety Telecommunicators’ Week has been set aside as an opportunity to honor the dispatchers whose rapid response and professionalism save lives in emergency situations.
The annual April observance was created in 1991 by a Congressional proclamation, and is observed by departments across the nation.
Henderson County Sheriff Ray Nutt said the recognition is well deserved.
“They are the heart of the law enforcement operation in the county and a majority of local police departments,” Nutt said. “They get the law enforcement officers where they need to go. They have a high-stress operation.”
Athens Police Department Assistant Chief Rodney Williams, III said his department has six certified dispatchers. They page out fire and police for the city.
“The dispatchers are a valuable tool and the lifeline for the officer,” Williams said. “They’re his communication.”
Sgt. Christina Teel is in charge of the dispatchers at the Henderson County Justice Center. She oversees 11 dispatchers, with two or three on duty at any given time.
“I have a good group,” Teel said. “I couldn’t ask for any better. They give all they can.”
Teel started with the Gun Barrel City Police Department, and has been with the HCSO for the past eight years. She can never guess when she reports to work what the upcoming shift will bring.
“Every day is different. It just depends on the call intake that comes in,” Teel said. “A lot of things happen, good and bad.”
Teel was on duty the day in 2007 when two members of the department were fatally wounded near Payne Springs.
“That was hard to deal with,” Teel said.
When a 9-1-1 call comes in, the dispatcher at the Computer-Aided Dispatch console begins to orchestrate the appropriate response. That means contacting one of the HCSO deputies, Department of Public Safety Troopers, one of the 23 volunteer fire departments or East Texas Medical Center for EMS response. Often, Teel said, all of the dispatchers on duty will be handling a call at the same time.
Teel said the ability to handle the stress of the job comes from a combination of experience, and a natural ability to keep composure when an officer’s life or the public’s safety is on the line.
“I think you learn how to deal with things,” Teel said. “As long as the officer’s safe, and you have time to take a break, you relax. If you have to cry, cry. Then you go back to work.”