Inside look: Eaton County Central Dispatch, how 911 dispatchers deal with a crisis

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EATON COUNTY, Mich. (WLNS) – DISPATCHER: “Eaton County 911, where is your emergency?”

When an emergency strikes, 911 dispatchers are the ones who are there…helping you get through difficult times.

DISPATCHER: “Mam, you have to listen to me. Is he breathing?

CALLER: “Yes, but his eyes keep rolling back and then he stops breathing!”

In the blink of an eye, a situation can turn from bad to worse and for Eaton County Central Dispatcher Libby Howland, she says it’s crucial that dispatchers stay calm.

“We are the first people to talk to you on your worst day and just know that we’re always here to help you, if you call us we’re always here, and we’re going to get you the help that you need,” said Howland.

Howland has been a 911 dispatcher for 8 years and says while it can be tough not knowing the outcome of a call, there’s certain moments that she carries with her.

“It was a medical call for an elderly female whose husband had found that she had a medical emergency in the night, he was gracious for our help. We got a call a few hours later and he said I just want you to know that my wife is doing better and she’s still here with us…and so I think of him a lot,” Howland stated.

It’s not easy becoming an emergency dispatcher, in fact 911 Director Michael Armitage says it involves 12 hour days and nearly 6 months of protocol training.

“For instance, somebody calls with a medical we give the caller pre-arrival instructions so we’re doing CPR over the phone with them,” said Armitage.

“It is a very emotionally draining job, you know a lot of times we’ll hear calls…maybe somebody dies on the phone or gets killed when we’re on the phone,” Armitage stated.

It’s no doubt these types of calls are traumatic, but Howland says she wouldn’t trade her job for anything.

“When people are calling us, it is the worst day of their life and to know that you hold the power to help them through that. That feels good,” said Howland.

It was just last November voters approved a 911 surcharge on their phone bills that goes towards building a new radio system for Eaton County Central Dispatch.

Armitage says the goal is to start building those radio towers come August with hopes of having them up and running by 2019.

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