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Week set aside to recognize dispatchers

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By John Singleton

Emergency dispatchers are often overlooked in news and media accounts because their jobs are not considered as exciting as other first responders’ jobs, said Linda Klostermann, a Nelson County police dispatcher.

However, she said, their job is equally important.

“We save lives,” she said. “We get calls from people on the worst days of their lives and it is just a typical workday for us.”

This past week was National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, designated to recognize all dispatchers across the nation and classify them as first responders. After all, first responders would not be able to do their job if it were not for dispatchers, Klostermann said.

Klostermann has worked as a Nelson County dispatcher for 24 years and said she has to be prepared for any given situation.

“There is no typical day,” she said. “There is no telling what is on the other end of a phone call.”

Klostermann said she’s had a man who attempted suicide call her and tell her he was in a truck on the side of Bluegrass Parkway, but couldn’t tell her where he was, so she contacted deputies in different areas to run their sirens to determine the man’s location. “Once I heard a siren through the man’s phone,” she said, “I would tell each deputy to turn their siren off one by one until I heard which siren it was I heard so I could locate the man. Sometimes dispatchers need to be creative and think outside the box.”

Dispatchers need to be as calm and collected as possible, said Mary Kate Bonzo, another dispatcher with Nelson County.

“My job is not just going to sit there and wait for me if I choose to break down,” Bonzo said. “My co-workers are depending on me. We are a team and we will succeed as a team or we will fail as one.”

The phone call is often the only connection dispatchers have with the person calling, said another dispatcher, Shanna Cheshire.

“The call is almost always all we get, and we will never hear from that person again. We never know if they made it to the hospital, if they made it home safely or anything,” she said.

Some people might label dispatch as a clerical job, and that is why it often gets forgotten and overlooked in the media and news stories, said Nelson County dispatch director Milt Spalding.

There were 72,725 total calls to Nelson County dispatch in 2018 alone, Spalding said.

According to police records, 17,843 of those calls were emergencies and 54,882 were “non-emergencies.”