When you call 911, whom do you get?
The unsung heroes of the Galveston Police Department.
Though unseen, they play a most important role in keeping Galveston safe, doing a job that generally goes unnoticed.
It’s a job that should be described as follows: “Patience of Job, wisdom of Solomon, willing to take undeserved verbal abuse — a caring individual capable of calming a mother holding a dying child in her arms who is too hysterical to give her address.”
They are like coaches — minus the big salaries. They “call the plays.”
The system was described to me by Sgt. Aaron Ausmus, dispatch supervisor:
“Twenty-two Galveston police officers operate the system.”
The first 911 “was congressionally mandated, a countywide system created in the late 1960s — when dialed, automatically rolled over to police administrative offices.
“The second enhanced 911 system, the one presently in use, was created in the mid-1980s. It traces calls and get caller information automatically.”
Norma Oliver started with dispatch in 1987.
I asked her for some of her experiences while working 911.
“Once, before we had advanced 911, I took a call from a little boy, five years of age, who said his sister was on the floor bleeding from the stomach, and he was scared. He did not know his address and could not read numbers or letters.
“He said his mom had gone out with her friends but he did not know where.
“It took us 1 hour and 49 minutes before we found the bar and the mom to get the address and send help.
“Officers arrived to find a letter from a 14-year-old who had committed suicide because her boyfriend had quit her.”
I asked Oliver what she would advise a young person contemplating working in dispatch as to the traits, abilities and skills one needs for this job?
She said, “It is a highly stressful, multi-tasking job and requires skills including answering both emergency and nonemergency calls — as the first responders — to your co-workers to get the job done.
“This job allows you to make a difference in someone’s life. People call 911 and you are their first contact — at a time when they need help the most.”
Of the thousands of calls received by dispatch, there are far more that have happier endings than those described above.
We, the residents of Galveston, are fortunate to have these unsung heroes working behind the scenes, dispatching those various forms of assistance to us when we need them most.
To get your nearest 911 dispatch, just dial it.
It goes to the nearest cell tower and that is from where the help will come — the area code of your phone does not matter.
Help is as near as your cellphone — a most comforting thought.
Tom Linton is a member of the Galveston Citizens Police Academy Alumni Association and is a frequent contributor to The Daily News.