- Associated Press - Saturday, April 23, 2016

YORKVILLE, Wis. (AP) - Matt Werra always picks up the phone at work. And he always expects the worst.

He could get a frightened 9-year-old boy who smelled smoke in the house. A distraught mom whose daughter was hit by a car. Or a panic-stricken elderly man who can’t wake his wife.

People, who at the height of their fear, dialed 911.

At the other end of that thin lifeline is Werra - A trained communication professional who during every minute of his shift is prepared to deal with the world’s darkest moments, The Journal Times (https://bit.ly/1YzPj3C ) reported.

It’s a responsibility he takes to heart every time he takes call.

“People call you because they know they will always get an answer,” said Werra, who has worked as a dispatcher at the Racine County Communications Center for four years. “You will be talking to people going through the worst moments of their lives.”

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Werra is one of 46 dispatchers who work at the center. The center provides police, fire and medical dispatch services for all of Racine County, except for the City of Burlington. In 2015, Racine County dispatchers handled 367,000 calls - more than 1,000 per day.

County officials last week recognized the devoted and diligent work of dispatchers during National Telecommunicators Week, established in 1994.

The dispatchers who answer 911 calls are often overlooked for the critical role that they play in coordinating first response efforts and in saving lives, said Jacqueline Bratz, director of the communications center.

“They are the critical link between the community and the first responders,” she said.

“I am thankful for and proud of the dedicated men and women who take on this responsibility,” said Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave. “Their efforts are key to helping those in need and protecting our community.”

The center’s dispatchers work in five shifts. Between five and 12 technicians work at any given time, Bratz said. Dispatchers monitor seven screens that provide loads of data - maps, locations of police and fire vehicles, driver license information, tracking data.

Training for the job usually takes between six and eight months. A good dispatcher can do many tasks at once, function as a team member, help others quickly, and stay calm at all times, Bratz said.

“They can go through the highs and lows of the job very quickly,” Bratz said. “Within 30 seconds, every 911 line could be ringing.”

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Werra, 34, took the job because he had a friend who worked at the center. He also has a criminal justice degree from Waukesha County Technical College.

He learned quickly that remaining calm is the best way to help people on the other end of the phone.

“Sometimes you hear things on the call and you want to jump into the phone and help,” Werra said. “But you have to detach yourself from the situation. Even if something bad is going on, you need to get critical information out.”

Emily Mankse grew up in a law enforcement house. Her father was a state trooper and she earned a degree in criminal justice before going to work as a dispatcher for the Mount Pleasant Police Department.

With eight years’ experience, Emily Manske is the veteran presence and resource for younger dispatchers. “We all have strong points,” she said. “Part of the job is to get those parts working together.”

Her experience was put to the test last March, when she dispatched during a manhunt for a suspect who kidnapped a patient from Lakeview Specialty Hospital in Dover then later took shots at Racine County sheriff’s deputies in Union Grove.

The ensuing manhunt for the suspect lasted her entire shift and into the next day, when the suspect was cornered in Mount Pleasant and eventually shot himself. Mankse remembers hearing the shots being fired at the deputies. “Your heart just sinks,” she said.

To deal with such stress, Manske reads, takes walks and spends time with her daughter. Werra deals with it by fixing cars and target shooting.

“You have to find a way to get away from the job,” he said.

While having a national week dedicated to honoring dispatch professionals is nice, Manske said the recognition she gets from her colleagues and from people who have called back after using 911 is even better.

“They are so thankful that someone was there when they needed it the most,” Mankse said. “That’s rewarding.”

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Information from: The Journal Times, https://www.journaltimes.com


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