Emergency assistance

Local dispatchers lend helping hands to officers, victims


"Here," Debbie Moncrief leapt from the dispatcher's chair, passing her line to a colleague trained to handle 911 medical emergencies.

Craig's Colorado State Patrol regional communications center was its usual busy clutter of voices and fingers flying across keyboards Thursday when another life was suddenly in the hands of strangers.

A day's monotonous ritual of call signs and clicks of a computer mouse by former hotel and library workers is violently altered with a telephone call.

"She's getting breath, right?"

Sue Navratil, 36, is in charge. The communications veteran solicits more facts and comforts a husband whose pregnant wife is in trouble.

"Female...pregnant...unconscious but breathing," Navratil coolly instructs, briefly leaving the role of comforter and doctor to send an ambulance to the scene.

Moncrief, a newcomer pursuing her own certification as an emergency medical dispatcher, returns back to the radio primarily answering Moffat County police traffic and local 911 calls.

The off-air conversation between call signs picks up on the new computer Navratil just bought.

Sometimes you get a "thank you" on this multi-tasked job.

"Where does that all start?" asked Navratil. "I don't think the public has any idea how difficult this is."

Navratil, Moncrief and Carlene Sanders have the job this day of running the Colorado State Patrol's Craig-based regional communications center. The center sends and receives messages and data over a 250,000-square-mile area from the Wyoming state line as far south to Pitkin County and from the Utah border east to the Continental Divide.

"Ninety-five percent of all the ski areas are covered here and we have 13 major mountain passes with highways," said Ruth Wade, the state patrol's communications supervisor in Craig, a dispatcher herself for 13 years.

The center covers Colorado's most difficult terrain in terms of communications.

"There are certain areas of the state we still can't get to," Wade said.

A team of 14 trained dispatchers puts smarts into the high-tech operation geared to communicate with the public as well as state, county and local law enforcement, emergency responders and aircraft.

Sanders, meanwhile on Thursday, tracked and communicated with all officers on duty in the Silverthorne area, in addition to Grand and Jackson counties.

A click of the mouse could put her in touch with Craig police or other local law enforcement, aircraft or repeaters with the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Sanders had a cleaning job in Steamboat Springs for seven years before a newspaper ad changed everything for her just over one year ago.

"I absolutely love it," Sanders said between


"Law enforcement always intrigued me, but I never thought about being a cop," she said. "It's the next best thing."

Highs with the job include being in the thick of whatever action might be out there.

Three weeks after starting, a half-hour police pursuit that ended in a gun-point arrest left a permanent impression with Sanders.

"I was shaking when it was over," she said. "After getting over the fear of doing that, it's almost fun."

The boss knows.

"I'm an adrenaline junkie," said Wade. "No two phone calls are the same."

Working with a public that can be uneasy to serve is a frustration, Navratil suggested.

"They're rude," said Navratil, who cited several common requests over the 911 system. Navratil, a mother of three, also volunteers with the Craig fire department.

"What's the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) phone number?"

People calling in many cases don't appreciate the regional nature of dispatchers' work at the Public Safety Center, several said.

"I'm on the frontage road."

"O.K., which one?"

"A lot of what we deal with is hysteria," Wade said. "No matter how simple or offensive people may be, they want an answer and they deserve one because they pay our salary."

Shifts are spread out over eight hours, at some point most stand to be able to function off raised ergonomical work desks. The physical and mental grind is compounded by emotional highs and, at times, extreme lows.

Any calls involving children hit particularly close to home.

"My husband hears it a lot," said Sanders, a mother of five. "I say he's been in Victims' Advocates for a year."

Moncrief, meanwhile, is still getting into the grove of things, having started in June.

"I get overwhelmed pretty easily," she said.

But Moncrief, who worked previously with the Moffat County Library, is sticking with it.

"It's a drain a lot of times," she said. "But it brings you back every day."

Paul Shockley can be reached at 824-7031 or at pshockley@craigdailypress.com.

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