- Associated Press - Saturday, September 19, 2015

WOODSTOCK, Ill. (AP) - Oct. 16, 2014, started out as a slow night for Jeremy Morris and Kelly Reid, dispatchers for the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office.

That wasn’t unusual. The midnight shift they’re assigned to tends to work out that way: It’s either feast or famine. There weren’t many 911 calls to the dispatch center that night, so the co-workers were chit-chatting about nothing in particular. Nothing memorable, anyway.

At 1:16 a.m., 28-year-old Morris, who had worked as a dispatcher for nearly eight years, answered the phone. It was an out-of-state caller requesting an officer check on his friend. Morris put the call out to officers.

Deputies Dwight Maness, Khalia Satkiewicz and Eric Luna responded to Holiday Hills for a well-being check on a possible domestic incident.

Nothing about the call was alarming. It was routine.

“We’ve taken that call hundreds of times,” Morris said.

A few minutes after the deputies arrived, over the scratchy radio, a breathless Satkiewicz yelled out: “Shots fired. Officer down. I’ve been hit.”

Morris and Reid paused for a second, looking at each other in blinking disbelief.

“Did she just hear what I heard?” Morris recalled.

The famine of a slow night suddenly turned to a feast - a feast they never wanted.

The Holiday Hills homeowner, 53-year-old Scott B. Peters had fired more than a dozen rounds through his front door at the officers, injuring Maness and Satkiewicz. Luna returned fire and was uninjured. Peters then fled the scene, sparking a 16-hour manhunt and bringing an estimated 250 law enforcement officials to the area. Peters eventually was captured and charged with multiple counts of attempted murder of a police officer.

A jury convicted Peters in April, and a judge sentenced him to 135 years in prison. Maness died Monday, and State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi says Peters could face additional charges if it’s determined Maness died of his wounds.

“It was the worst night possible,” Morris said. “It’s the worst call you’ll ever have to take.

“Before it happened, there was always the possibility that this could happen. Now we know it can happen. It did happen. And it can happen again.”

Morris and Reid switched into high gear - heart rate pumping, beads of sweat forming. They called for an ambulance and backup from nearby police departments, initiated a reverse 911 to notify neighboring residents, called up the SWAT team, notified superiors, fielded calls from the news media and general public … the list goes on.

Taken as a whole, police and fire dispatchers are a rare breed, said Jason Kern, the executive director at SEECOM, the county’s largest dispatch center. They’re part customer service representative, part life-saver. They’re trained to handle “anything from a bee sting to delivering a baby,” he said.

It’s a high-stress job and a vital one.

“All the calls we’re handling on a daily basis are potentially the worst moments in somebody’s lives,” Kern said.

On Oct. 16, it was just Morris and Reid working, which is not unusual to only have two dispatchers on the overnight shift. Morris describes that night as an almost “out-of-body experience.”

“I was in disbelief that it was even happening,” he said.

SEECOM typically has three or four dispatchers on any given shift. They cover 14 police and fire agencies. On average, they handle 3,000 calls into 911 a month, Kern said. The Sheriff’s Office takes about 2,600 calls each month, but were quick to point out that number skyrockets during bad weather, like snow storms.

Dispatchers take the emergency calls and extract crucial information from callers to get the necessary help, but at the same time protecting the first responders they send to the scene.

“In law enforcement, they’re our lifeline,” McHenry County Sheriff’s Deputy Aimee Knop said. “Truly, they’re just as important as the officer you meet at your door. “

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Source: The (Crystal Lake) Northwest Herald, http://bit.ly/1hFa2U9

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Information from: The Northwest Herald, http://www.nwherald.com

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