Craig dispatchers celebrate work during Public Safety Telecommunicators Week | CraigDailyPress.com

Craig dispatchers celebrate work during Public Safety Telecommunicators Week

CRAIG – In most emergencies, a dispatcher is the first to assure a person that help is on the way. From car crashes in Gypsum to medical emergencies down the street in Craig, the Craig Regional Communication Center works around the clock to get law enforcement and emergency services to the people who need them across a swath of 10 counties in Northwest Colorado.

The center celebrated National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week April 9 through 14 with daily dress-up days, activities and food.

The fun has a purpose; Debbie Head, regional manager of the center, said the events get dispatchers out of their normal routine, which is very strenuous and stressful.

The Craig Regional Communications Center coordinates response for most of Colorado State Patrol Troop 4, Moffat County 911, Moffat County Sheriff's Office, Craig Police Department and Craig Fire/EMS. It's one of five State Patrol communication centers and one of three on the Western Slope.

The fact that the Craig Regional Communication Center handles calls for so many agencies is unusual.

"It is unique, because usually, each county has their PD, sheriff and their own 911," Head said. "This is a smaller county, so they came in with the State Patrol."

Their coverage area includes the Interstate 70 corridor from Vail to Parachute. The I-70 corridor keeps the office busy in every season, and inclement weather often brings more calls, Head said. As legions of summer travelers fill the roads, incidents fill the dispatcher's information system.

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"It's a very taxing job, and obviously, we're 24/7," Head said. She said the hardest part of the job is spending so much time away from her family. Taking difficult 911 calls can also take a toll, she said.

During the day and swing shifts, there are three dispatchers and one supervisor ready to receive calls. At night, two dispatchers and one supervisor take to the phone and the radio. If somebody is late or sick, a dispatcher on duty remains at work until someone else can replace him or her.

"You have to be able to physically and mentally change gears in a moment's notice, because that's how it is," Head said.

A dispatcher can be sitting with little to do one minute, then coordinating an engines roaring effort to respond to an emergency only seconds later.

She joked that dispatchers have to learn a new language: 10-code and the phonetic alphabet. In training, each dispatcher must memorize how to spell names using words such as Adam, Baker and Charlie. They also learn State Patrol 10-codes. For example, a 10-42 marks the end of an officer's shift, and a 10-28 is a request to check if a person has warrants out for his or her arrest.

Rachel Wright, left, a flight paramedic for Classic Air Medical, shows a medical transport helicopter to Arlea Pingley. Pingley toured the helicopter as part of the Craig Regional Communication Center’s celebration of National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week.

National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week gave dispatchers a chance to celebrate their work.

On April 11, Classic Air Medical landed a medical transport helicopter in the parking lot of the Public Safety Center. Employees' children and grandchildren were invited to check out the helicopter, eat pizza and spend some time in the Communication Center.

Dispatchers taking calls could also play bingo, earning prizes if they could black out a row for taking certain calls. All week long, dispatchers were allowed to break the center's uniform code with themed dress-up days. Employees could win prizes for wearing the best get-up, be it the best tacky tourist or best fake injury.

"It's like a second family," Head said of the job. She's retiring soon, and though she looks forward to it, she said she’ll be sad to go. "You become very close with the people you work with, and it is like having an extended family. I am going to miss it when I leave."