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The folks at 911 deserve everyone’s thanks and support

by Marion Weissheimer

This is about a dependable, caring friend. A friend who is there when needed, but slips back into quiet anonymity when the task is finishedout of sight and mind.

This friend has no name, only a number, a three digit number – 911.

Renee Harmon recently dialed the three digits when her son, Cody, a newspaper carrier, told her he had heard a cry for help coming from inside the Chrislaw house. Renee, and even young Cody, knew they could rely on 911 to alert the proper county agency, which would send needed aid to the woman in distress. Help arrived immediately, and Virginia Chrislaw appears to be recovering nicely, according to her Letter to the Editor. As paramedics were helping Virginia, 911 dispatchers were already answering other emergency calls.

Renee, Cody and Virginia may never meet the trained telecommunicator who answered that call, but she or he will be at the Douglas County Emergency/Management Communications Center to help, should they be needed again.

911 is used by the public throughout the United States to request emergency assistance, and gives the public direct access to a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP), which is responsible for taking appropriate action.

In this country, the concept of a nationwide emergency phone number materialized in 1957, when it was endorsed by the National Association of Fire Chiefs. In 1967, the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice recommended that a “single nationwide number should be established” for reporting emergency situations. In November 1967, American Telephone and Telegraph selected the 911 number because it was brief and unique. Its more formal title is “University Emergency Number.”

Today, Douglas County residents are among the fortunate 85 percent of the country who have access to 911.

n Quick response. The benefits to Douglas County of reduced response time by emergency agencies are worth remembering. A reduction of one minute in response time for ambulance and rescue service lowers the death rate in heart attacks, accidents and injuries, probably saves countless dollars in fires and contributes to the high apprehension of criminals.

Although every system is unique, a 911 system primarily works in the following way:

n The three digit emergency number 911 is dialed.

n The call is answered at a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP).

n The telecommunicator at the PSAP received the information from the caller and dispatches the information to the appropriate agency.

The calls to 911 are serviced 24 hours every day. Using line maps created by the GIS, the Geographical Information System, 911 provides communications support services for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department and the East Fork Fire Prevention and Paramedic District, as well as the Tahoe Douglas Fire District, the Washoe Tribal Police and the Alpine Sheriff’s Department.

They also provide the RUOK program. In cooperation with the Douglas County Triad Organization, staffers at the center conduct a daily telephone check, at a predetermined time, on senior residents and others who live alone or who have special needs. Should the communications personnel at 911 be unable to reach someone at the number called, a sheriff’s deputy will be sent to the residence to check on the welfare of the individual. You can find out more about the program from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.

Then, there’s the “Red E. Fox’s Great 911 Adventure.” It’s an education program for 1st and 2nd grade age groups that teaches the proper use of the 911 system. It’s a 30-minute video program that includes a video and educational activities. This program, like all the others, is free as a public service by Douglas County 911.

All that the center asks of the public is that we use the number 911 only for emergency help calls.

n Dedicated staff. Who are these never seen or heard from 911 people? Currently, the staff consists of 16 very capable and dedicated men and women. Those who have met Richard Mirgon, the communication center’s director, have no doubt that nothing less than the highest standard in the operation of this facility would be allowed. Ron Sagen and Tom Sauls are the center’s communications supervisors, Pam Jenkins is the management assistant, with Sandy Draper, the management secretary. Tammy James carries a double load. She is the center’s administrative assistant. She also volunteers many, many hours every week as DCCA-TV, Channel 26’s television station program scheduler, station technician and video programmer. (Channel 26 is temporarily housed in the communication center’s building). Mrs. James does all of these things marvelously well, performing in each capacity tirelessly and efficiently.

Others on the staff are telecommunicators and dispatchers – Robin Miller, Cirri Miller, Eric Gochenouer, Cathy Rhead, Ken Davis, Marilyn Munoz, Debra Dehnert, Harry Raub, Natalie Escalante and Merry Golden. Each of these staff members are trained in responsiveness, leadership and resilience. Dispatchers are trained in law enforcement, fire and emergency medical dispatch procedures and are required to rotate positions daily.

n Professionalism. I am one of the fortunate few who is occasionally allowed entry into the Douglas County Communication Center, and I am always impressed, by the exemplary professionalism of each individual on duty. It is apparent in their behavior toward visitors at the center, their swift response to calls and their respectful conduct toward each other. They are always there, working as a team, seldom leaving their stations, with eyes focused on the computers before them, phones linked to their ears and hands moving over the buttons and switches on their desks. Every time I enter the building, I am reminded that one of these people may, one day, have a hand in saving my life. They are concerned observers of our community, ready to support and give assistance in times of trouble.

The entire staff at the 911 communication center deserves our highest regard, unending praise and gratitude.

The Record-Courier E-mail: rc@tahoe.com

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