Monday, January 29, 2001

Pressure causes turnover among police, fire dispatchers

By James Hannah
The Associated Press

        DAYTON, Ohio — When she answered the phone Sept. 1, 1991, police dispatcher Desda Doersam heard a gunshot.

        The hysterical caller said she was hiding behind a coffee table and that her son had just shot his wife.

        “This is probably the worst call I had ever dealt with,” recalled Ms. Doersam, a 20-year veteran with the Miami Township police department. “All I could think of is the woman OK? I actually heard the shot being fired.”

        Ms. Doersam dispatched officers, then waited for what seemed like an eternity before hearing that the suspect had surrendered and her caller was safe. However, the caller's daughter-in-law lay dead and her boyfriend wounded.

        Ms. Doersam said she went to her doctor later that day because she feared she was having a heart attack.

        “I just couldn't deal with it very well,” she said. “I was stressing out.”

        Shootings, drownings and even tornadoes may be all in a day's work for police and fire dispatchers, but the pressures take a toll and affect how smoothly public safety institutions run.

        In Salt Lake City, the turnover rate for dispatchers in 2000 was 31 percent, up from 19 percent the previous year, said Carol Groustra, bureau chief for the Utah Department of Public Safety. One reason, she said, is stress.

        In Ohio, the State Highway Patrol has responded to an increasing workload by hiring more dispatchers — 282 statewide, up from 242 in January 2000.

        “Ultimately, this will be able to help reduce some of those stresses,” said Sgt. Gary Lewis, patrol spokesman.

        Sgt. Lewis said dispatchers serve as a lifeline for patrol officers. He said many dispatchers develop a “sixth sense” of when an officer is in trouble.

        “They will call for backup just hearing the heightened tension in your voice,” he said. “They have to be very fine-tuned to what's going on.”


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- Pressure causes turnover among police, fire dispatchers