Outstanding 9-1-1 Center team members honored at annual get-together

Find out why we traveled to central inner East Portland to visit with some of Portland’s most important workers – but ones who are seldom seen; much less recognized …

The mood is festive at Madison’s Grill at SE 11th Avenue and SE Madison Street, as the Bureau of Emergency Communications Annual Employee Awards Banquet gets underway.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The lighting is subdued in the large room where they work in shifts, 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week.

Many of the people they serve are having “the worst day of their life” because of crime, accident, or illness. Without their direction, firefighters wouldn’t know where to go to extinguish a blaze. Police officers would be on their own – knowing only what they observe outside the windows of their patrol cars. Ambulances would idle in their garages, instead of racing to assist those who are having a medical emergency.

Such is the vocational life of the men and women who serve as Portland’s public safety dispatchers, call-takers (9-1-1), managers, supervisors, and administrative staff who go to work at the Bureau of Emergency Communications (BOEC) facility located in the Lents Neighborhood.

Organizers gave us a sneak peek at these beautiful awards, before the formal program begins.

Celebrating their own
Stephanie Babb, Sr. Dispatcher Lead, and Chair of the Bureau of Emergency Communications Annual Employee Awards Banquet, welcomed us to their annual gathering – held this year in inner south-central East Portland, at Madison’s Grill, on April 11.

“This event is important, because we need to honor these people who, day in and day out, take calls and dispatch emergency services,” Babb told us. “We’re not only coworkers, we’re also friends – like family. It’s good to have this kind of camaraderie away from work – getting to see people in a different setting.”

The evening’s activities included a served dinner and great selection of door prizes, in addition to the awards presentation. And, as in past years, the entire event was self-funded, Babb noted. “It’s paid for by those attending, and by donations from our user agencies, our retired workers, and people in the community support our program.”

Stephanie Babb, Sr. Dispatcher Lead, and Chair of the event, congratulates Sr. Dispatcher, and Portland “2010 Telecommunicator of the Year”, Kim Hunt.

Portland’s Telecommunicator of the Year
Introduced by Congress in 1991, “National Public-Safety Telecommunications Week” is held during the second week in April each year, we learned. This is a week dedicated to public safety telecommunicators who aid in providing 9- 1-1 emergency assistance – thus the celebration.

Babb introduced us to Senior Dispatcher Kim Hunt, named “2010 Telecommunicator of the Year”.

“It’s an honor to be recognized in this way by my coworkers,” Hunt smiled. “It shows they think I do a good job and represent them well.”

Asked what she likes about her job, Hunt replied, “It’s interesting, in that it’s like you have a different job every day. We are able to help people when they need it most.”

BOEC’s Director, Lisa Turley, spends a moment with the “Supervisor of the Year”, Georgia Marumoto.

Supervisor of the Year announced
Lisa Turley, Director of BOEC, introduced us to the person named as the “Supervisor of the Year”, Georgia Marumoto.

“I really appreciate the recognition,” Marumoto said. “As a supervisor, we don’t ‘crack the whip’ over our people – we have cattle prods now,” she joked. “Actually, we supervise the day-to-day operations, and make sure that calls are getting handled and getting dispatched quickly and appropriately.”

Outstanding Coach and Team Member honored
Then, it was our turn to meet Senior Dispatcher Alecia Zefakay, BOEC’s “2010 Coach of the Year”.

“Best part of being a coach, for me,” Zefakay said, “is that it’s really cool that I can look around this room and see so many people whom I’ve coached, and been part of their training. To do this kind of work, you have to be good at multitasking. But, it really takes experience – a lot of experience – to be able to understand all kinds of people, calling under all kinds of circumstances, and be able to help them.”

Communications Support Specialist Denise Willey, BOEC’s “2010 Outstanding Team Member”, said she makes sure the 9-1-1 operators’ equipment is working properly, that their scheduling is done correctly – and she fixes or replaces anything that breaks. “Anything they need, I’m there for them.”

About her award, Willey commented, “I’m just doing my job; but they said I do it with a smile. That’s what I do.”

BOEC’s “2010 Coach of the Year”, Senior Dispatcher Alecia Zefakay, stands with Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, and “Outstanding Team Member”, Support Specialist Denise Willey.

Commissioner Fritz lauds telecommunicators
“This is my second time attending this awards event, as the Commissioner in charge of BOEC,” observed Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz.

“During the 15 months I’ve been in charge of the Bureau, I’ve done ‘a sit-along’ [like a ride-along with a police officer or fighter], and hence, I know exactly what goes on in the 9-1-1 Center, and have gotten to know employees by name,” Fritz said.

“It’s amazing to see how much is going on a one time,” she remarked, “and how well the operators can concentrate on so many different things. For example, in the call-receiving area, operators take care of both emergency and non-emergency calls. I learned that if an operator seems abrupt during a non-emergency call, it may be because there is an emergency call coming in.”

As in her former profession of nursing, Fritz pointed out that the 9-1-1 staff members are called upon to work shifts at all times of the day and night – including weekends and holidays. “This means, a lot of times, they don’t get to see their family in normal hours. Our employees here are absolutely outstanding.”

Commissioner ponders emergency response issues
As a former psychiatric unit registered nurse, Fritz said this award program brought to her mind another, current issue, dealing with the mentally ill who are in crisis.

“I’m working on a report with Commissioner Dan Saltzman about how we’re taking care of people who are mentally ill the community,” commented Fritz. “We’re going to be having some discussions with BOEC about how we could be dispatching more in concert with Multnomah County Crisis Line. Maybe we shouldn’t always be dispatching police for mental health emergencies.”

Fritz reflected, “I saw perhaps 10,000 people brought into OHSU during the 22 years of nursing; transported by police after an emergency call to 911. They were safely brought into the hospital and were taken care of – and went on to live their lives.”

Find more information about the Bureau of Emergency Communications by visiting their website. CLICK HERE to bring up that webpage.

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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