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911 operators reflect, look ahead
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Liberty County Communications Director Tom Wahl will tell you his job is easy; it’s his crew that does “the grunt work.”
“It’s not about me,” Wahl said. “My job is to make their job as easy and effective as possible. My challenge is to stay on top of the technology, so my crew will have the best tools to do their job.”
The public safety communications director said he provides his communications officers the necessary training, equipment and certification to field calls from residents who dial 9-1-1, and non-emergency calls from Hinesville, Midway and Walthourville’s police and fire departments, the sheriff’s office and EMS.
“We’re also the initial answer for cell (phone) calls on Fort Stewart,” he said. “They’re a little behind us on technology.” Wahl said his communications officers transferred roughly 2,000 9-1-1 calls from cellular phones to Fort Stewart’s communication center last year.
Communications officers [COs] deal with callers who are upset and frightened and some who are “outright nasty,” the communications director said.
“It’s a high stress job,” he said. “So I try to help make their jobs as palpable as possible.”
Wahl personally cooks his department Thanksgiving and Christmas meals each year. He said he tries to make their work environment as comfortable as possible. Wahl also gives his COs a pat on the back by having trading cards printed, spotlighting his communication officers and training coordinators’ certification and career histories.
Wahl’s crew members shared some of their most memorable calls and a few personal resolutions for the coming year.
“I once answered a call from a man who thought aliens were in his attic,” CO Stephanie Higginbotham said. “That was one of my funniest calls.”
“One Christmas we actually put out an APB (all points bulletin) on a stolen Christmas tree,” Wahl said.
“I had one man who called during the recent power outage we had in Hinesville,” CO Nancy Winchell said. “He said the spirits told him it was the Asian people turning off the power through computers. I didn’t know how to respond to that.”
“We have nothing to do with power outages or when water has been turned off,” Wahl said.
“We get a lot of kids playing on the phone,” CO Cierra Liles said. “I had one child call because his friend was stuck in a tree and couldn’t get down. His foot was caught and he was hanging upside down. The kids were only about 7 or 8 years old.”
Liles was able to give responders longitude and latitude coordinates from the child’s cell phone signal so they could locate and assist the children, Wahl explained.
Higginbotham said the worst calls she receives involve children either directly or indirectly in serious, sometimes life-threatening emergencies.
“I have kids of my own,” she said. “After five years the calls from kids still get me.”
“We stay on the phone with children who call with emergencies, to keep them calm,” Wahl said. He added calls from elderly residents also move him, such as when a senior has fallen and needs assistance.
“I recently took a call that could have been really bad,” Winchell said. She explained the call came from a child whose mother and recently redeployed soldier father were engaged in a domestic dispute.
“Those are the types of calls that are increasing with the troops returning,” Wahl said.
On a lighter note, the county’s COs shared their New Year resolutions with the Courier.
 “My resolutions are to quit smoking and to have more time with my babies,” Higginbotham said.
She also plans to finish a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
“I have just one more class,” Higginbotham said.
Winchell is also working toward a degree.
“I plan to finish my certificate for medical transcriptionist,” she said.
“My biggest resolution is to be happy,” Liles said. “I’ve thought about going back to school; I just don’t know what for yet.”
Wahl resolves to help his personnel excel.
“I’ve got a good crew,” he said.

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