Dispatchers given life-saving award | VailDaily.com

Dispatchers given life-saving award

Christine Ina Casillas/Daily Staff Writer
NWS Suicide2 2-13 MK

The grave yard shift at the Vail Communication Center never bothered dispatchers Sharon Farmer and Amy Gray. The girls work through the night, handle calls and sometimes drive home impacted by the evening. But the early hours of Dec. 17 had a much more intense effect on the women.

A 9-1-1 call came in around 2:30 a.m. It’s not unusual for the dispatchers to receive late-night calls and they’re trained for just about everything. A dispatcher has to be prepared for anything.

“If they take a suicide call, we train them how to deal with their own stress,” Michelle Grey, communications supervisor for the Vail Communications Center, said in an earlier interview. “Because they hear things on the phone that they’re likely to take home with them.”

And some of the dispatchers admit it. They put their emotions on hold until the job gets done. And sometimes when the calls are too disturbing for some of them, they’ll hand the call to another dispatcher.

“The type of work the dispatchers do day in and day out is hard,” said Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger. “They listen to a lot of cranky calls from people – especially us – who are not on their best behavior. And they sit in a little room and listen to these calls all the time.”

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Team effort

The night of Dec. 17, Farmer answered the call, but she wasn’t expecting to hear either the voice that came across from the other side or the intensity of the call.

A man had jammed a needle in his neck allegedly in an attempt to end his life. Dispatcher’s protocol calls for referring some callers to a suicide hotline, but Farmer kept the man on the phone.

“(Farmer) could have handed the caller to someone else, but nobody knows what would have happened to him,” said Paul Smith, director of the Vail Communications Center. “She dived a little deeper after the call came in.”

Farmer kept the man on the phone for nearly two hours while Amy Gray answered all other emergency phone calls that night.

“It was a two-man project,” Smith said. “They worked as a team, and they worked to keep him on the phone.”

While Farmer spent time on the phone with the caller, she eventually was able to send help to the man.

A sheriff’s deputy on call that night told Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy the call and the girls’ actions were “so intense and involved” that they needed recognition, Hoy said.

“Beyond the call’

Because of the girls’ efforts to save the man’s life – and they did save his life, police officials say – they were awarded Thursday with a Life Saving Award, an award issued by the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office to public-safety employees for their heroic actions in the line of duty. Only three people have been given the award. Farmer is the first one to receive the award from the Vail Communications Center.

“In listening to the tapes, (Farmer) did an outstanding job of keeping the caller on the phone and delicately gathering the required information so help could be dispatched,” Smith said.

Gray also was recognized for her role in supporting Farmer’s call. Gray was presented with the Vail Police Department’s Certificate of Commendation for her role helping Farmer.

“Gray went above and beyond the call of duty by answering all other calls while Sharon was on the phone,” Smith said.

Farmer also was awarded the Vail Police Department’s Bronze Wreath of Meritorious Service for her demonstration of dedication, compassion and patience.

“During it, at the time, I didn’t realize the impact of the call until I hung up the phone,” Farmer said. “I didn’t think or feel like this was a single effort because it wasn’t.”

Farmer and Gray have worked for the Vail Communication Center for more than two years, and they are among 22 employees at the center. The center provides dispatching services for 14 emergency agencies in Eagle County.

On average, dispatchers field 600 phone calls per day, ranging from noise complaints to medical emergencies.

Christine Ina Casillas can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607, or at ccasillas@vaildaily.com.

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