Lake County dispatch shares important tips for calling in an emergency

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At any given time at the county’s 911 dispatch, located at the Lake County Courthouse, at least two dispatch employees can be found, multitasking.

Working off seven screens, answering general phone calls and helping law enforcement agencies in addition to taking emergency calls are some of what dispatch handles on a daily basis.

Multiple maps with grids hang on the walls across from survellience televisions on the other side of the room, all of which each employee glances at from time to time.

Shelly Burland, assistant supervisor, said that call volumes vary, but during the summer months the types of calls that are received range.

There are 16 dispatch operators taking calls and entering information to better assist first responders. Three new dispatchers are in a 16-week training period, Burland said.

Dispatch assists Tribal officers, Montana State Highway Patrol, officers with the National Bison Range and Fish and Wildlife, to name a few, Burland said.

As people call to report an emergency situation, Darlene Lester, 911 supervisor, suggests that residents know the address in which they are, so that when personnel ask where to send help they can get help to the location as fast as possible.

“It also helps to have the address on a fridge” or somewhere visible, she said.

She also suggests that property owners add the house address to the house to make it easier for first responders to identify.

Any medications should be ready for emergency medical technicians to help treatment get underway, she said.

Lester added that describing what color structure the caller is in along with anything distinct outside, such as what kind of vehicles are parked nearby, can help first responders find a location to administer assistance in an emergent situation.

Burland said that when calling 911 for a possible DUI while on the road, “give the description of your car so law enforcement knows what to look for,” but do not follow the possible impaired driver closely, she added.

If a caller decides to follow the car until it is pulled over, Burland said to pull behind law enforcement and let them know they are the caller.

Sometimes, she said, people call in anonymously, which is up to each caller.

“Phone calls are used for probable cause” when someone calls in alerting dispatch to a possible DUI, Burland explained. It also gives dispatch or law enforcement a point of contact should they need more information.

For car accidents or crashes, Burland said try to get a description of the vehicle along with a license plate number and contact information of the other person.

“Do not leave the scene,” she said, adding that those involved in an accident should call 911 first, then after help is on the way, make other phone calls.

One thing that Burland said is developed over time is a “thick skin” when the heavy or sad calls come in.

After work, dispatch employees go home to their friends and families, and sometimes they can debrief with law enforcement or use resources for additionalhelp, Burland said.

Burland worked with the city of Polson for nine years before moving to county dispatch, each a position she said she wanted so she could help people.

“Everyday I learn something new,” she said, adding that she has adapted to “creative thinking outside the box” to get information from callers in unique situations.

A dispatcher for nine years this coming January, Staycha Hansen said that she approaches work as just that: work that she is expected to do.

Hansen had experience at an answering service in California before she came to county dispatch.

Working with calls going to lawyers, doctors, the University of California, Los Angeles and towing businesses, Hansen said she took the position when the opportunity came about.

She said she deals with the harder calls by approaching work as it’s her job, separating herself from the situations to ensure she can get assistance to the caller.

Burland added that Hansen is “meticulous” when it comes to her performance, taking thorough notes and making sure that help gets to each caller.

One thing that dispatch said is important to remember is not to call 911 for information or to see if there are evacuations in place.

“Law enforcement will notify” residents should evacuations occur, as “policies are in place” to alert residents and protocol will be followed, Hansen and Burland said.

By calling dispatch, the phone lines are tied up for people that need assistance.

Hansen added that burn permits are not handled by dispatch anymore, but rather the Division of Fire and Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

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