Vail Daily column: Life-or-death role of Vail Public Safety Communications
You’re at your desk, someone calls, “Please help, my child has stopped breathing!” Your heart begins to pound. You contact the nearest first responder and then begin giving instructions on CPR, counting the seconds until the ambulance arrives. The medics have notified you that they are there. You wonder: Did the child start breathing?
Almost immediately, you get another call that a gas leak has caused an explosion and fire at a remote home; there may be fatalities. The person calling is a visitor and is unsure of their location. They are hysterical because they can’t find their spouse, it’s dark and the flames are intense. “Please help me” is all they can manage to say. You attempt a cellphone trace, but all you get is the nearest tower. You try to get more information, some clue as to where they are, but the person on the other end is dazed, confused and scared. You call the fire department and area police, who begin searching for possibilities.
Another call comes in; you keep this caller on the line. There is an accident on Interstate 70 and one car has gone off the road. Several calls are coming in at once. One caller says the accident is in Vail; another says it is near Copper Mountain. They can’t tell if there are injuries. You look on your real-time display and notice two police cars in the area, one Sheriff and one Vail Police Department.
They decide that based upon the description, more than one officer may be needed, so they both head over. Meanwhile, you must get back to the fire call. You are notified by the fire department that they have just pulled up to the home. You worry; was everyone able to escape? Meanwhile, the police officers have arrived at the accident and need paramedics. You see their location on the map and direct an ambulance to them.
Another call comes in. A worried dad is calling that his daughter did not come home on time. She was due at 11 p.m.; it’s now 1 a.m. You go through the usual questions about friends and events, and then you send an officer. There are some rather remote spots in Eagle, and there was mention of an after-party in the mountains.
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While she is probably with her friends and simply lost track of time, or perhaps the car broke down and she can’t get cell reception, you must also consider that she is injured or even a victim of foul play. Several hours later, neither the parents nor the police have been able to find her. Vail Search and Rescue is contacted. You begin thinking of your own children.
This is where 911 begins. Imagine receiving more than 125,000 calls per year, knowing that thousands of lives depend upon you. There are six screens at each desk, running the latest technology, monitoring every aspect of emergency and law enforcement in Eagle County. Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, Vail Police Department, Vail Fire, Avon Police Department, Eagle Police Department, Eagle Fire, Gypsum Fire, Airport Rescue, Eagle County Paramedics, Rock Creek Fire, Eagle River Fire, Eagle River Water and Vail Mountain Rescue all depend upon the Vail Public Safety Communications Center. Ninety-nine percent of all calls are answered by the third ring, yet only four to seven people run it. The cost of maintaining the center is around $2.6 million per year; the cost of saving your life is priceless.
The stress of managing 13 Eagle County agencies, with at least 20 percent of the calls considered life-threatening emergencies, creates a level of subliminal stress equal to that of those in combat; post-traumatic stress disorder is a risk factor.
Numerous certifications are required, spanning six to 12 months. Extensive testing and background checks are required. The invisible safety net that encompasses Eagle County is due to the dedication and professionalism of those at the Vail Public Safety Communications Center. The Sheriff’s Office owes much of its success to you.
James Van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.