They’re the voice on the other end of the emergency call.
“We’re actually the first first responders. We’re the ones that answer the 911 calls. We send the officers, the firefighters, the paramedics to the scene,” said Rob McMullen with the National Emergency Number Association. “Dispatch takes the first call and pushes it out to the public safety folks.”
They call it the thin gold line.
“In between the red line, which is the fire department, and the blue line, which is the police department – you’ve got the thin gold line, which is dispatch,” McMullen said. “We’ve always got their back, we’re on the back side of the scene, and we’re the unsung heroes.”
The Indiana chapter of NENA holds its annual conference in Indianapolis and every year they award the local 911 Hero Medal of Honor to a child who makes an emergency call that has a significant impact.
This year’s recipient, Destiny, is an 8-year-old from Sheridan, Indiana who called 911 when she found her uncle unconscious outside in frigid weather.
Derek Davis is the communications officer who took the call.
“A lot of times, when we get phone calls from children, it’s just somebody discovering the phone for the first time. So, once I got an address out of her and realized this was a true emergency, you revert back to your training and help them the best you can.”
It was her aunt, Jacquelyn Toomey, who taught Destiny and her sister, April, how (and when) to call 911.
“Their uncle, Charlie, was diabetic. He also was partially blind. And 911 was a number they’d see, ‘Oh, let’s just dial this on the phone.’ And it’s, ‘No. We’re not going to do that. What we’re going to do is we’re going to learn how to use 911 correctly,’” she said. “And they are very fast learners.”
Destiny and April were both recognized for their bravery, knowledge, and quick thinking. NENA awarded them gift cards and a few other goodies before revealing the real surprise.
“You like the Colts, don’t you?” Destiny was asked. “Well, guess what? Matt Overton from the Indianapolis Colts is here to present Destiny with our Call Hero Medal.”
The Colts long snapper joined Destiny on stage and presented her and April with signed footballs and other gifts from the team before placing the medal around her neck.
“I came here to not only thank you for your courageous act and being such a strong little girl and helping save the life of your uncle – calling 911 and just being unbelievably smart as far as where you’re at, how old your uncle was, the phone number – I don’t even know how old my parents are. So, that’s incredible,” he said. “But first, I just want to say thank you so much to dispatchers, law enforcement, paramedics, EMT, all first responders, firefighters. I come from a law enforcement family, so to be here today is an honor.”
Overton’s dad was a police officer for 32 years and his stepmother was a dispatcher for more than 20 years – so, he understands the challenges of the job.
“They have to be on their A-game at all times,” he said. “Not only is it important for the person who’s making the call to 911 to be calm and collected, but the dispatcher has to be calm and help communicate clearly.”
It’s a big responsibility with little recognition. Just like the special teams unit, you rarely hear about dispatch unless something goes terribly wrong – or, as in this case, something goes amazingly right.
And just like football, it’s mostly about preparation.
“It just shows how important it is to teach your young kids how to utilize 911 and know their surroundings – know where they live, know the phone number and all of that kind of stuff,” Overton said.
It was a moment Destiny was prepared for years ago. And when it came, she executed perfectly.
“I think you would be a great dispatcher one day,” Overton told her.
Destiny has already demonstrated she can stay calm, put others first, and handle a situation that’s bigger than she is.
Those are skills that will serve her well in life – no matter what she decides to do.