April 14, 2010 EditionAlso in this issue...
Tony Waldrupe (from left) and Yonnie Layton work in the Lawrence County Communications Center. The center, which employs 14 people, is marking National Public Safety Telecommunications Week this wee k.
TD Photo ~ Gretchen Hunt
This week is National Public Safety Telecommunications Week, and Lawrence County's dispatchers are among those being recognized.
Lawrence County Communications Center 911 Director Stephen Jones and Assistant Director Sherri Sparks said they are taking this week to acknowledge the dedication and outstanding efforts of the Lawrence County 911 staff.
"Telecommunicators are the lifeline behind all emergency calls and are usually the forgotten calm voice assuring that someone qualified will be there to help quickly," Sparks said.
"A dispatcher's job is never the same, and it's not just answering a call," she continued. "It's assuring a timely response by knowing who to send, helping the responders get there and passing along good information to make sure they can work safely and go home at the end of the shift. They have to stay calm, be alert and be able to handle whatever is thrown at them, whether it is a minor call or a tragic call."
The Lawrence County Communications Center employs six full-time and eight part-time dispatchers. Of the 14 employees, there are four licensed EMTs, four firefighters and four certified police officers. In addition, 12 of the employees are APCO (Association of Public Safety Communications Officials) telecommunicator certified.
Employees are also required to take the basic fire protection class if they have not already done so, and all of the employees have been on the scene of a fire or incident at some time.
"It gives them the background to be able to help," Sparks said. "They have a picture in their head of the scene because they've been there before."
In addition to Jones and Sparks, the current 911 team includes Paige VanBrook, Peggy Miles, Tony Waldrupe, Yonnie Layton, Delinda Duckworth, Richy Thatcher, Mark VanBrook, Nicole Jueal, Daniel Hill, Jordan Cooksey, Deric Breedlove and Kyle Riggs.
Lawrence County put the Enhance 911 system in place in October of 1994, and in December of 2003, 911 Phase 1 was implemented. Phase 1 allowed the center to track the location of 911 calls from landline telephones.
From 1994 through September of 2005, the 911 system was operated out of the Lawrence County Jail.
In September of 2005, the Lawrence County Communications Center was moved to a separate room in the Lawrence County Courthouse, where it remains today.
"All non-emergency and emergency calls for police, fire and EMS for the county, excluding the Hoxie Police Department, which maintains its own dispatch, are handled by the Lawrence County Communication Center," Sparks said.
Jones said he believes the Lawrence County staff is as good as they come.
"They have to be able to do a bunch of things in a hurry if something breaks loose, and they do a really good job of it," Jones said.
He said their ability to do that job is enhanced by the quality of the emergency responders in Lawrence County.
"We have some really good folks out in the field," he said. "Everyone works together really well."
Among the agencies that the dispatchers work with are the Black Rock, Ravenden, Walnut Ridge, county, state and highway police, 13 fire departments, two ambulance services, three wrecker companies, Game and Fish, the Arkansas Forestry Commission, Air Evac and Hospital Wing.
"We have really good support from the county judge, sheriff, quorum court and all the agencies we work with," Jones said.
In July of 2009, Lawrence County implemented 911 Phase 2, which allows the center to track the location of a call from a cell phone.
"Lawrence County is one of eight 911 Phase 2 centers up and running in the state of Arkansas," Jones said.
Sparks said she hopes the public will gain an increased understanding and appreciation for 911 - a service that many people take for granted.
"The 911 systems have become the backbone of emergency reporting and response," Sparks said. "The term '911' has become synonymous with public safety."
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