Taking the call

bbashioum@demo-mo.comOctober 5, 2013 

While Richard “Pokey” Hedrick doesn’t wear a badge of a law enforcement official on his uniform, his role as a Cass County Sheriff’s Office dispatcher requires him to have the ability to maintain a cool head in stressful times.

In a life or death situation, or a crime in progress, when Hedrick picks up a call, his job is to stay calm despite how frantic the person on the other end of the line may be reacting to a 911 emergency.

He has to be able to multitask, have a sense of geography, and be able to send the right kind of help to a person in need when the seconds count.

Hedrick has been sitting in the dispatch chair since 1997, so it’s easy to speculate he’s been on the receiving end of thousands of panicked calls.

He could say he’s seen it all. But yet, every shift is a bit different from the last. No call is the same.

The job is certainly not for the faint at heart.

The Cass County Sheriff’s Office dispatchers answer calls from their jurisdiction, but also for the police in Archie, Cleveland, Creighton, Drexel, East Lynne, Freeman, Garden City, Lake Winnebago and Strasburg.

They also dispatch for six area fire departments, including Central Cass, Creighton, Dolan West Dolan, Drexel, East Lynne and Garden City.

On a Thursday evening a few weeks ago, a strong storm was moving into the area at dusk.

The chance of severe weather would maybe keep people indoors for the night, but the chance of storms could possibly threaten safety on the roads.

Hedrick’s shift was off to an interesting start.

Earlier in the evening, officers were tipped off that a male subject who had a parole violation and had previously ran from the Missouri State Highway Patrol was spotted in Archie.

Cass County deputies were able to make contact with the subject, and were able to bring new charges against him, including the possession of marijuana, resisting arrest and a felon in possession of a firearm as he was taken to jail.

Shortly after coming on his shift, another call came into dispatch in reference to a person who fell out of a vehicle in the area of North Lake in Harrisonville.

Police would later discover that an assault had occurred between two young adult males in a parking lot and continued on Lake Road as the victim was dragged from the vehicle.

Not only do dispatchers have to relay emergency calls to police, they have to do everything in their power to keep a deputy safe.

Dispatchers are expected to provide deputies with complete and accurate information and to remain calm themselves.

“You can’t have any mistakes,” said Communications Supervisor J.D. Shrewsbury, Hedrick’s supervisor. “If the wrong person gets arrested then that becomes a liability issue for us.”

On a typical shift in the communications room, two dispatchers man stations around the clock.

Dispatchers typically work 12 hour shifts -- from 7 a.m.-7 p.m., and 7 p.m.-7 a.m.

Last year, Cass County dispatchers took 66,184 calls.

“I don’t see our jobs going away anytime soon,” Hedrick said. “Especially in the way our area is growing, we’re going to continue to grow as well.”

When they’re not on a call, dispatchers perform a variety of other tasks at their desk.

They are responsible for assisting in warrant and ex parte entries, computer validations, checking the status of subjects in custody at other facilities, recalled warrants, entering stolen items/vehicles in the state’s computer system, confirming warrants and arranging extraditions, and monitoring the Sheriff Office and Justice Center’s video security monitors.

Inside of the communications room on the second floor of the Sheriff’s Office, there is a bathroom along with a mini-kitchenette area.

Dispatchers are expected to stay in the room the entire length a shift as in a turn of minute, circumstances can go from calm to reckless.

As the night went on, a fair number of calls came through the operator’s lines.

Dispatchers go through a considerable amount of training in order to pick up a 911 call.

The on-the-job training is 16 weeks long, and trainees must also take several classes, including a 40-hour basic communication officer course, a 24-hour emergency medical dispatch course, a 32-hour Missouri Uniform Law Enforcement System, and undergo training with the National Incident Management System.

There are also several recertification exercises dispatchers undergo every two and three years.

During Hedrick’s shift on this particular evening, most of the severe weather strayed north of Cass County, but dispatch did get a few calls about down trees on roadways.

While it’s not certain, the conditions could have also been a factor in a one-vehicle, non-injury rollover crash on Interstate 49 between Harrisonville and Peculiar. About a dozen calls came in from other passing vehicles, calling 911 to report the accident.

The weather can certainly kept deputies on their toes throughout the evening hours.

As the night went on, the other dispatcher working took a call from a 4-year-old who called from her parent’s cell phone to talk about her upcoming birthday.

After it was determined the child was not in harms’ way, the dispatcher asked to speak to the girl’s parents and informed them that their child had dialed 911.

The evening progressed without much other excitement until about 11 p.m. when a call came in that even the untrained eye could see why it’s important that a dispatcher is alert, calm, and ultimately, ready to handle emergencies.

The caller was urging 911 operators to send an ambulance as quick as possible as she was watching another woman suffer a heart attack.

In true skill, the dispatcher answering the phone had an ambulance enroute within seconds.

While calls of this nature happen regularly, it was apparent that Cass County Sheriff’s Office dispatchers take each call seriously with professionalism.

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