Apr 12, 2024

The help you never see: Barton Co. recognizes 911 dispatchers

Posted Apr 12, 2024 3:00 PM
Barton County Communications Director Dena Popp
Barton County Communications Director Dena Popp

Great Bend Post

Once upon a time, those in need of emergency assistance had to remember a seven-digit phone number to call for help. In February 1968, the first 911 call was made by a state politician in Alabama. The number became a consolidated public safety answering point in Barton County in 1989. Barton County Communications Director Dena Popp was at Tuesday's county commission meeting to proclaim April 14-20 as National Public Safety Communications Officer Week.

"The extreme multitasking, constant change in pace, high stress, rotating shifts, nights, holidays, and weekends is not for everyone," she said. "For some dispatchers, the things we hear can take a toll on a person's mental health: not knowing if the person you gave CPR survived; not knowing if the conversation you had with somebody in a mental crisis made enough impact to convince them to get the help they need. 911 is not for everybody, but over the last year, 911 staff in Barton County have had some calls that have reminded us why we love this profession and to keep us motivated and dedicated to our job."

Popp told commissioners how one dispatcher, just the day before, talked a suicidal caller through the steps to seek help for an alcohol-related intervention. One dispatcher, in the space of 60 days, helped two callers administer CPR and another deliver a baby.

"Both CPR calls resulted in lives being saved," Popp said. "The spouse of one of those CPR saves has contacted me and expressed her gratitude for the calm demeanor, professionalism, and guidance through the CPR that she believes saved her loved one."

911 services have greatly changed since the original service began in the 1960s. In Barton County, Rapid Deploy technology helps dispatchers pinpoint the location of callers, and new video and text-to-911 options add ways for callers to seek help. Beyond the many emergency calls dispatchers handle, they also take administrative calls, work with road crews, electrical crews, and tow-truck companies. They even answered questions about COVID-19 during the pandemic.

"The commitment, sacrifice, and dedication that has been shown by these 911 employees does not go unnoticed," said Popp. "It's very appreciated and makes me very proud. Oftentimes, this is a thankless job, and I want to say thank you to my staff. I appreciate their dedication and the personal sacrifices they've made all these years. I'm proud to have them as part of my team in this amazing profession."

Eight of the current 14 positions at Barton County Communications are occupied by dispatchers with 3-29 years of experience.