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Special Report: 9-1-1 Behind The Scenes

Dispatching for 9-1-1 is arguably one of the most demanding and thankless jobs around, but we all desperately rely on their services. Staff at Champaign County’s Metcad center work tireless saving and helping lives each day.

(Dispatcher) "Champaign county, 9-1-1- what's the address or emergency... (caller) “I live three miles north of homer, head on collision fire, ok, where's this at..".

They're the voice on the other end during our most helpless moments of fear and tragedy.

(Dispatcher) "is that an apartment or house and the telephone you're calling from…".

And now the face of that helpful voice, Metcad's 9-1-1 center dispatches emergency response for nearly all of Champaign County. About 30 call takers process nearly 1000 calls daily. It’s an entry-level position for some, others stay longer. 

Karen Clevenger, Metcad supervisor says, "they either stay for a very long or it's a stepping stone for being a first responder, being a fire fighter, being a police officer".

Dispatching for 9-1-1 requires extensive on the job training and a keen ability to discern, listen and  communicate well….nd they don’t just process calls. Many times they're talking people through CPR procedures or helping deliver a baby by phone. 

Brian Peddycoart, a 15 year- dispatcher says "I love emergency services, I love helping people especially in their time of need. It's something I've always been interested in since I was a little kid".

 Jamie Smysor, a dispatcher for more than 14 years says they rarely get closure after a days work.

"There's a lot of times I leave here and I'm like, I wonder what happened to that person or is everything gonna be ok. There's been plenty of times where I left here crying where you know…we do take a lot of these calls to heart", Smysor says.

So this is how it works, when you call 9-1-1 the dispatcher answers the call within seconds, if not immediately to first determine an accurate location. They then proceed with a series of questions to determine the urgency of your call.

(Dispatcher) "and what's he wearing, ok Ma'm, take a deep breath, somebody else is sending the police…".

"As I'm asking those questions if it's a true emergency or depending on the situation, somebody else is likely sending the help to you,” Peddycoart says.

Champaign Fire Marshal John Koller says Metcad's work is invaluable.  

"They're the ones that are on the phone with people during what can be some very tragic situations...Walking them through steps that could be something like a heart-attack.." Koller says.

And that's exactly what happened to John Stoffel three years ago, he went into cardiac arrest, dialed 9-1-1- and Smysor answered.

"She picked it up on the first ring. I told her where I was and what I needed, what kinda vehicle I was in and she dispatched help for me," Stoffel says.

Stoffel says it took about 26 minutes from the time he called to when surgeons implanted a stent in his heart.

"Every year he sends me a post card thanking me for saving his life and that means a lot to me," Smysor says.

"If she would not have been that efficient and that quick, yea I doubt seriously, that I'd still be here today," Stoffel says.

Funding for 9-1-1 centers has declined nationally but there's currently legislation to address the urgent need to better support these hard working men and women.

Metcad recruits dispatchers about twice a year. Applicants must have a high school degree or GED. The position starts off at $19 an hour. Applicants must be able to type 32 words per minute. Ideal candidates have previous dispatch, customer service, or emergency response experience.

Nate Rodgers reports.