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Stafford Emergency Communications staff recognized as unseen first responders
Stafford dispatcher Stacy Ober says every day is different, but helping callers is always rewarding.
PETER CIHELKA/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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BY KATIE THISDELL
One thing Stacy Ober can't do in her job as a Stafford County 911 dispatcher is play God.
But callers sometimes want her to.
"When's the next aftershock going to be?" was one question she remembers from Aug. 23, the day of the magnitude-5.8 earthquake.
On that day, much of Stafford's emergency communications center staff showed up voluntarily to work, even when they weren't scheduled. They knew that the 38 lines would be busy.
And they were. In the two hours right after the quake, they received 469 calls. During that same time on an average Tuesday, they usually get 65.
Carol Adams, director of Stafford's center, applauds her staff for their dedication that day--and every day.
This week was designated National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week. In Stafford, it wraps up with an open house 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today in the dispatch center.
"It's never the same thing twice," Ober said earlier this week, while standing in front of eight computer screens, wearing a headset and also listening to the radio for law enforcement with what her boss calls a "third ear."
"It's so much more than I expected," said Ober, 24. She has has worked in the center for almost two years.
She's among the 32 people who ensure that 911 calls are answered, police, fire and rescue crews are dispatched and warrants are entered into the computer system.
Though not physically demanding, the work is mentally and emotionally exhausting. But Ober says she thrives on the chaos.
"It's not a job most people can do," Ober's boss said.
Adams has been in the field for 30 years and will be one of very few nationwide who may retire from emergency telecommunications.
Annual turnover in the 32-person center in Stafford is 28 percent, slightly above the national average.
That means the department is always hiring new staff to fill empty positions. The dispatch center could accommodate a much larger staff in the rear of the 114,000-square-foot Public Safety Building at Stafford Courthouse.
Adams said four to five dispatchers are hired each year, and they must complete eight months to a year of on-the-clock-training.
"We put a lot of time and commitment into them," Adams said.
Learn about Stafford's emergency communications center at an open house Saturday. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., staff will show visitors what happens in the dispatch center and how 911 works.
The center is in the Public Safety Building at 1225 Courthouse Road.