A week to honor the important work that 911 workers do in Eagle County | VailDaily.com

A week to honor the important work that 911 workers do in Eagle County

Jennifer Kirkland
Special to the Daily
Fernando Almanza tries to assuage fears in the Vail Valley's Latino community about calling 911. He's one of 24 911 professionals who answer calls at the Vail Public Safety Communications Center.
Chris Dillmann | cdillmann@vaildaily.com

When you need police, fire, or EMS, you usually get them by calling 911. In Eagle County, those 911 calls are answered by Vail Public Safety Communications Center telecommunicators. This week, April 14-19, is National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, honoring 911 professionals across the country. At VPSCC, there’s a lot to celebrate.

Vail Public Safety Communications Center is Eagle County’s public safety answering point. Located inside the Vail Police Department, it answers 911 calls for all of Eagle County and dispatches for five fire departments, four police departments and one ambulance district. Our staff also works closely with the Colorado State Patrol dispatch center in Craig, which dispatches the troopers in Eagle County.

Telecommunicators are considered the first first-responders because they are the first person involved in the call, and they are the only responders involved in every call in Eagle County. Eagle County Paramedic Services Operations Manager Jim Bradford sums it up: “Eagle County emergency responders literally could not do our jobs without the collaboration and skills of our public safety communications center. They are uniquely able to bring together the agencies responding to the scene of an emergency.”

The center is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year by a team of 24, including Director Marc Wentworth, a 911 operations administrator, a CAD/Map administrator and four supervisors. In 2018, Vail Public Safety Communications Center telecommunicators answered 122, 820 telephone calls (911 and administrative) and built 126,540 calls for service into the computer-aided dispatch system. The difference in those numbers is made up by self-initiated calls by the field responders, such as traffic stops or citizen contacts.

On April 5, Fernando Almanza was awarded Telecommunicator of the Year by Colorado NENA/APCO, the state chapter of the two national professional 911 organizations. His nomination cited his work with the community and schools, teaching about 911 and how to interact with the center, as well as building relationships with the Spanish-speaking community. Fernando is the first certified Spanish-speaking telecommunicator at Vail Public Safety Communications Center, and he is called upon to translate by officers when a strong understanding of police procedure is needed to ensure the right message is given. Fernando joins several teammates who have earned awards in past years from Colorado NENA/APCO, including supervisor Bonnie Collard and telecommunicator Amber Droegemeier. In 2015, the center earned the Center of the Year award.

Additionally, on March 19, 2019 VPSCC was awarded Agency Training Program Certification by APCO. Public safety agencies use the APCO International Agency Training Program Certification as a formal mechanism to ensure their training programs meet APCO American National Standards (ANS). Initial and continuing training for public safety telecommunicators is important as they provide essential services to the public in an expanding and rapidly changing environment. 

Although Colorado has no mandatory standards for training 911 professionals, VPSCC is proud to meet APCO’s rigorous standard and give its employees the tools and skills needed to provide excellent service to the citizens, guests, and responders of Eagle County.

Each VPSCC telecommunicator goes through an extensive training program, which takes 4-6 months to complete. All are CPR-certified, as well as certified Emergency Medical Dispatchers (EMD) through the International Academy of Emergency Dispatch (IAED). EMD certification eanbles telecommunicators to provide lifesaving instructions to callers in need, including CPR, childbirth, and choking instructions. Since 2010, eight telecommunicators have earned Lifesaver Awards for saving someone’s life by providing CPR instructions, and three have earned Stork Awards for helping deliver a child over the phone.

Gypsum Fire Chief Justin Kirkland said: “It’s wonderful that the telecommunicators can provide lifesaving interventions right away, while responders are still en route to the incident.” VPSCC employees also take the Mobile Communications Unit (MCU) out into the field for larger incidents and to support special events anywhere in the county.

Telecommunicators at VPSCC are as diverse as the county they serve. Recent new hires hail from Missouri, Texas, and Montana. The longest-serving person at VPSCC is in her 29th year, and the newest started on April 15, 2019. When the center first started operating, it dispatched only for upvalley agencies. In 1998, the center consolidated and started dispatching for the entire county. The center moved from the basement at the police department to its current location, and has been remodeled twice since then.

Telecommunicators are proud to work at VPSCC. Some of the things they enjoy about it are the lifestyle that Eagle County provides, working with like-minded people, and being able to give back to their community. Telecommunicator Michelle Aranda explains it this way: “We’re not Denver, we’re a close-knit community. I like that we are all committed to serving our citizens. When we come to work, we are helping ‘our’ people, even when we don’t know them.”

While telecommunicators do that every shift, they are also involved in things like the Annual Ride in Remembrance, Shop with A Cop, the Special Olympics Polar Plunge and Torch Run, and the Adopt A Trail program, among many others. For many years, VPSCC has partnered with Minturn Police Department and later with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office to provide Christmas gifts to families in Minturn who needed a little extra help.

VPSCC telecommunicators  work closely with PSAPs in Lake County, Pitkin County, Garfield County, Summit County, Routt County, and Grand County on incidents near county boundaries. Last summer, they coordinated especially closely with Pitkin County during the Lake Christine Fire. Coordinated communications was essential in making sure citizens had the right information on evacuations, road closures, and other safety information. This partnership continues with the ongoing need for messaging about potential flooding in the fire area.

Marc Wentworth has been the Director of VPSCC since November 2015, and worked as a supervisor and telecommunicator prior to that. He is impressed by the work telecommunicators do every day: “I’m proud to be working with a great bunch of people, who give so much to the community.” We wish them a Happy Telecommunicators’ Week, and thank them for their contributions to public safety! For more information about VPSCC, please visit http://www.vail911.com. 

Jennifer Kirkland is a 911 operations administrator with the Vail Public Safety Communications Center.