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Keeping alert even on Christmas

9-1-1 operators others work through holidays

POSTED: January 12, 2008 5:02 a.m.
As stores began to close for Christmas Eve and last-minute shoppers tried to beat the clock, Pamela Strickland and her four operators reported for duty promptly at 6 p.m. to begin their 12-hour shift at the Liberty County 9-1-1 Communications Center.
These five women, as well as the other operators who operate the consoles during various shifts, are often called the unseen heroes of Liberty County. They are even referred to as the lifeline to the dozens of police officers, firefighters and EMS workers who depend on them 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“We have to be here, it is an important job. Those emergency personnel in the field depend on us to give them the correct information and keep them safe,” Strickland said.
Christmas Eve 2007 was no different. Strickland, a shift supervisor, donned her headset and prepared to assist her operators.
“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?” Strickland asked a caller.
The caller wanted to report suspicious activity behind a home in Hinesville. After Strickland took the information, an officer was dispatched to the home.
With a voice better suited for the classic soul station on satellite radio, Strickland spoke softly into her headset, “140, need you to check suspicious activity at North Ridge apartment on Taylor Avenue. The complainant said she heard dogs barking and would to like to have it checked out.”
Strickland, a single mother of a 28-year-old daughter and a 16-year-old son, was hoping the calls on such a holy night would be few and far between.
“You can never predict how a shift is going to turn out. We’re praying that things stay quiet,” she said.
But that was not to be the case. Within the hour, a burglary attempt was made on a convenience store in the Fleming Community, another call sent officers to the home of a paralyzed man who heard someone tampering with a window and then another officer was dispatched to a reported fistfight in Hinesville.
Just as quickly as the calls came in, quiet blanketed the 9-1-1 center as the calls stopped.
Strickland’s coworker, Stephanie Higginbotham, a single mother of a son, 9, and a daughter, 5, and also accepts that she’s needed to work on a night when families traditionally gather to celebrate Christmas.
“My kids know Mommy has to work, and when I get home we will celebrate Christmas and open the presents Santa brings tonight,” she said.
Higginbotham says the one thing that makes working on Christmas Eve bearable is that the group is like her extended family.
When she left two years ago to take a job in Macon as a 9-1-1 dispatcher, she called Director Thomas Wahl and told him she wanted to return home. She was welcomed back with open arms.
Strickland said the job is not for everyone.
“We have people come in here thinking since they work at a drive-thru window and wear a headset they are qualified for the job. There is so much stress at times, we have to get up and walk away from our consoles to regroup,” Strickland said.
Throughout the years, Strickland has had to juggle everything from calls from a parent screaming that her child is not breathing to spouses who reported being beaten.
But there are also humorous calls, she said.
Strickland received a call about a missing Christmas tree.
“The woman called up and reported her decorations and Christmas tree were stolen,” she said.
Although a Liberty County sheriff’s deputy was dispatched to the home to take a report, the woman called back and insisted a “be-on-the-look-out bulletin be broadcast.
“Well we did just that,” Strickland said, “we put a BOLO for a Christmas tree. Though we didn’t know how anyone was going to positively identify it since it was bare,” Strickland said with a laugh.
As the night wore on and the digital clock on the wall counted down the minutes until her shift ended at 6 a.m., Strickland made it a point to call her son, DeAndre. She told him it was okay if he wanted to open his presents after midnight.
“He’s a good kid and there really is no point in waiting for me to get home to celebrate Christmas. They know I have to work and, as I said before, somebody has to be here. Too many people depend on us tonight to keep them safe,” Strickland said.
 

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