This week I am going to highlight the important work done by ECOM, a department within the county that most of you would think I would never spotlight.

First and foremost, I have nothing but respect for anyone who accepts a job in an emergency communication center. The hours are long, the pay is horrible, and criticism from users and media are sometimes never ending.

Let’s look a little deeper into what makes a good dispatcher — or telecommunicator as they are known today.

There are three types of telecommunicators:

First, you have the telecommunicator who enjoys being part of the action, who loves helping first responders and the general public on their worst day. These folks typically have family in emergency services or in law enforcement or might be a first responder themselves on the volunteer level or be retired from a full-time career in emergency services.

Next, you have people who saw an opportunity for a good job with state retirement, county benefits and a stable work environment. Oftentimes these people come into the communication center with little to no real life experience in emergency communications or emergency type situations.

Finally, you have folks like me who live and breathe communications, people who have honed their abilities as a communication professional. This group loves communications and lives and dies by policy. This type of communicator typically moves up the ranks quickly and into supervisory roles or management. They listen to the radio even on their days off and always know what’s going on in the county where they work.

Out of these three types, the second group is typically the hardest to train and develop into a good telecommunicator. Having little to no background in emergency services proves to be very difficult for these types of communicators. While they often turn into excellent dispatchers, this type of communicator burns out the easiest and often ends up leaving communications.

I do not pretend to know who Iredell County hires for their dispatchers. I do know quite a few dispatchers in ECOM, but most of them fall into either the first or third category. Iredell County ECOM has a high turnover rate, and I can only surmise that many who leave are the second type. Statistics indicate that individuals with no background in emergency services or emergency communications last between three and five years.

Iredell County is in a transitional period right now with emergency communications. As the study by Windborne Consulting LLC revealed, many first responders do not have a high degree of confidence in ECOM management. With that said, I believe most first responders agree that the dispatchers we hear on the radio and who the general public hears when they call 911 are doing the best job they can with the training they have been provided.

A few years ago I sat through a wonderful seminar presented by the Denise Amber Lee Foundation. It was mentioned that just because a telecommunicator has finished training and completed all the steps to become a telecommunicator, it does not mean they have been trained correctly. That was evident in the way Denise Amber Lee was let down by the Florida telecommunicators whose actions directly led to her death.

I respect the telecommunicators in Iredell County. They have a tough job. Let me speak directly to our dispatchers: First responders understand the struggles you are going through. We understand the policy that you are following might not be the best. We understand the technology that you have might not work the best for every situation. We understand using three different trunking systems to communicate in this county is burdensome.

Thankfully, the Iredell County Board of Commissioners funded the study by Windborne Consulting LLC. This study was delivered in two parts and provided excellent detail into the problems within our communication center. First responders and citizens of this great county hope the recommendations provided in this study will help our dispatchers function daily and provide the essential changes needed to make ECOM a top-notch emergency communication center.

In closing, I want to thank each and every dispatcher in Iredell County, including those in ECOM, the Statesville Police Department and Mooresville Police Department. The job is not easy. It can take a toll on your health and it is mentally hard. It takes a special type of person to even agree to sit in the seat, face that intimidating console and answer the phone. Thank you for the work you guys and gals all do.

Dan Gitro is the founder of Iredell Firewire.

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