On April 6, many people stopped to help those who were injured in the Humboldt bus crash.
From first responders and witnesses who were the first on the scene to Stars Air Ambulance, ambulance services, police, fire and other emergency services who performed their duties in spectacular fashion, so many people jumped in to help in anyway they could.
We were quick to thank those who helped out, and rightly so.
But the majority of us have missed a certain group in our thanks: our 911 dispatchers.
The Saskatchewan government has proclaimed April 8 to 14, 2018 as National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week.
This is a time set aside to celebrate dispatchers, and especially while we are still aware of the role they played on April 6, it is fitting that we talk about their work during an emergency situation.
I spoke with Humboldt and District Fire Chief Mike Kwasnica about the role of 911 dispatchers, and he was quick to agree they are often overlooked.
Theirs is the first voice we hear on the worst day of our lives, he says.
“They’re taking the panicked person, they’re trying to calm them down, trying to get the information we need to try and do our jobs and be able to do them quickly and efficiently,” says Kwasnica.
The 911 dispatchers are crucial in a crisis, says Kwasnica, because they are the connection between emergency services and the person on the other end.
“We have no idea what we’re doing unless they give us a good explanation of what is the call that’s coming in, where we’re going and what we’re going to.”
When police, fire and ambulance are called to a scene, they are very visible, Kwasnica says, with flashing lights and big vehicles.
But 911 dispatchers are not in the limelight or on the news, he says because “they’re a voice in a room someplace.”
And those “voices in a room” do a lot of hard work.
“In 2017, 364,297 calls were offered to Sask911 operators, which was nearly a nine per cent increase over 2016,” according to an April 6 Government of Saskatchewan press release.
That is an average of more than 30,000 calls a month.
However, the government also reported in a January 2018 press release that 12 per cent of calls from January to November were abandoned, meaning dispatchers answer to find no one on the other end.
There are ways of avoiding this, according to the release, including “manually dialing 911 instead of preprogramming the number in your phone; and teaching your children the importance of 911 and when it should and should not be used.”
Kwasnica wanted to emphasis that dispatchers are human.
General 911 tips courtesy of saskatchewan.ca:
• When calling, say where you are and identify which emergency services you require, such as police, fire or ambulance.
• Try to remain calm and be able to provide additional information, if requested by an operator.
• Don’t hang up until an operator advises you to do so.