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Inside 911: The job of an operator

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“New Hanover County 911. What’s the address of your emergency?”

It is a question 911 operators ask for twelve hours a day. The question is routine, but the answer is always unique. “Every day’s a little different, I guess that is the best way to put it,” said 911 operator Vic Rule.

Most 911 operators say that is what they love about the job; at least according to those who stick with it.

“They say the average life span of a dispatcher is 3 to 5 years. I just made it,” said Christopher Enyart.

Rule added, “It’s always a hard job here of keeping people because of the multi-tasking, the stress, and the hours.”

With constant pressure and just three, ten minute breaks scattered throughout the work day, it is no surprise 911 operators turn over at such a high rate.

“It can eat at a person to sit there and be able to hear someone crying for help and knowing that your hands are kind of tied because you’re behind the scenes,” Rule said.

Enyart said, “One of the most dangerous things you can be here is apathetic. You know you have to care all the time.”

That can be exhausting, especially at New Hanover county 911, one of the busiest centers in the state. Operators take calls for the Wilmington Police Department, the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, police at Wrightsville, Carolina and Kure beaches, county fire departments, EMS, and UNCW.

Some operators train for an entire year before taking calls on their own. “The training is very intensive. Anyone who clears training, fully clears training, is highly, highly qualified,” Enyart said.

Still, all the training in the world can not prepare dispatchers for every emergency call. Enyart said, “When I first started here I had nightmares for days, but that’s not uncommon.”

That is why 911 operators work in teams. They say building a family of dispatchers benefits the people on both ends of the phone calls.

“We try to be supportive as much as we can, not just with everyone here, but with the callers we deal with,” Rule said.

For long-term 911 operators, it is those callers that keep them coming back to the job. “You know you go to work everyday and you do something that helps people,” added Enyart.

Last year, New Hanover County 911 operators answered almost half a million calls for service.

Tune in to WWAY at 11 and we will listen to some of those calls and hear first hand what the dispatchers deal with on a regular basis.

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Story summary

videoIn an emergency we see the police officers, the firefighters, and the paramedics, but we never see the 911 operators who get them there. New Hanover County’s 911 dispatchers say it is a high stress, fast-paced, unpredictable job – and they would not have it any other way.

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