Dispatchers called critical to emergency services in Orleans County

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 13 April 2015 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – Kim Zarpentine, one of nine full-time Orleans County dispatchers, works in the 911 Center last week at the Orleans County Public Safety Building.

ALBION – When people are in distress in Orleans County and then call 911, they talk to a dispatcher who will collect the information and activate a response, whether from police, the fire department, an ambulance or animal control.

Sometimes, while help is on the way, the dispatchers will give instructions on performing CPR, delivering a baby or removing a choking obstruction.

The job can go from being fairly quiet to life-or-death situations within seconds.

“There’s so much we have to do,” said Allen Turner, a dispatcher for 23 ½ years and communications coordinator for the 911 center. “We’re basically the lifeline in Orleans County.”

Allen Turner, the communications coordinator for the dispatch center, started as a dispatcher 23½ years ago.

This week is “National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week,” an effort by government officials to recognize the important and critical work by dispatchers. In Orleans County, there are nine full-time and four part-time dispatchers.

They receive about 80,000 calls a year. Last year that included 23,447 police calls, 5,773 ambulance calls, 2,541 fire calls, and 1,490 animal control calls. In addition, there were another 57,924 calls to dispatch.

“Dispatchers need to be patient and remain calm when people are in a very heightened state of emotions,” Turner said.

When Turner started as dispatcher in October 1992, he remembers there was little training for the job. That is not the case today. The dispatchers have three days of in-house training and refresher courses throughout their careers.

Many of the dispatchers are also firefighters and involved in emergency services. Four fire chiefs in Orleans County – Pete Hendrickson of Holley, Mike Schultz of Kendall, Jerry Bentley of Barre and Jon DeYoung of Clarendon – work in dispatch.

One dispatcher, Bill Oliver, was an Albion police officer before switching to dispatch 24 years ago.

Kevin Colonna, an Orleans County deputy sheriff, looks for information from dispatcher Bill Oliver.

Kim Zarpentine was a firefighter, EMT and CPR coordinator for the Clarendon Volunteer Fire Company. She has worked as a dispatcher for 12 years.

“It was a natural transition,” she said about the job.

Sometimes when there is a frantic caller, dispatchers will need to use “repetitive persistence” to draw out the details and determine the problem, the address and which emergency responder to send.

If it’s a police call, dispatchers will try to give it to the closest car outside the villages with police departments. A call in Albion, Medina or Holley is dispatched to those police departments, while calls outside those villages are sent to state police and Sheriff’s deputies.

Zarpentine said callers sometimes aren’t sure of their whereabouts or the extent of the problems. The dispatchers will work to get the most relevant information for responding police, fire departments or ambulances.

Bill Oliver, a dispatcher for 24 years, talks over the air about an emergency call last Friday.

The dispatchers are essential to the emergency services in Orleans County, said Chief Deputy Tom Drennan.

“That’s the start of whole process,” he said. “Getting the right information is critical for officers’ safety and the individual’s safety.”

Drennan said the dispatchers are professionals determined to work quickly and accurately.

“They have to draw out the information and the get addresses, and then pass it out to the right jurisdictions and people,” he said.