Unseen heroes of the 9-1-1 Center honored

Find out who was honored as Portland’s ‘Telecommunicator of the Year’, and why this work matters …

Staffers and guests with the Portland Bureau of Emergency Communication chat as their annual awards banquet gets underway.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

Tucked away near the I-205 Freeway, where the Powellhurst-Gilbert and Lents neighborhoods meet, is where dozens of men and women work, 24/7, in the Portland Bureau of Emergency Communication (BOEC) bunker, commonly known as the “9-1-1 Call Center”.

It’s highly unlikely that of these dedicated civil servants would refer to themselves as “heroes”, but read on, and discover more about this bureau.

Every year, employees honor their own at a banquet and awards ceremony, this year held on April 11, west of the Willamette River, at the University Place Hotel.

Putting finishing touches on the banquet are BOEC Supervisor Chelsea Labar with Supervisor and Employee Recognition Committee Chair Michelle Perrone,

“Here, we honor our employees for the work that they’ve done in the previous year,” reflected BOEC Supervisor Michelle Perrone, who is also Chair of the Employee Recognition Committee.

“This event is very important, because here we show our employees how much we appreciate them, and applaud all the work that they do, and all the dedication that they put into the work on a daily basis,” Perrone told East Portland News.

Guests look over raffle prizes, deciding which ones might be won with their lucky tickets.

As in past years, the entire banquet is entirely paid for by BOEC employees who fundraise during the year, and purchase tickets to attend. A wide variety of businesses and organizations contribute gift items to the raffle.

New this year is the “Silent Key Award”, presented, along with several other awards, to recipients nominated and selected by their peers – culminating with the “Telecommunicator of the Year Award”, Perrone said.

Silent Key Award
Senior Dispatcher Kathryn Collver

Senior Dispatcher Kathryn Collver shows her Silent Key Award.

The Silent Key Award is presented to a team member who is shown extraordinary work and gratitude toward other employees, “going above and beyond to be helpful, grateful, and showing good teamwork,” Perrone explained.

Senior Dispatcher Kathryn Collver was not only presented the Silent Key Award, but also the “Stork Award” for providing telephone assistance in helping delivering a baby, as well as a “Life Saver Award” and a “Critical Incident Award”.

“Having only been at the agency for 3½ years, I feel humbled and almost a little overwhelmed, and very honored,” Collver responded.

Coach of the Year
Erica Gregg

Showing her award is “Coach of the Year” Erica Gregg.

This year’s BOEC “Coach of the Year” was 13-year employee Erica Gregg.

“It’s good to be able to help transform trainees into new dispatchers, and then watch them flourish as they take on a new career, and it’s fun to be part of that process along with them,” Gregg said of her role at BOEC.

“Every day is different; there are new challenges that come along every time you work,” Gregg added. “It’s rewarding helping people, and also very rewarding being a coach, helping the newcomers learn to be the best they can be!”

Outstanding Team Member of the Year
Victoria Hellman

Meet BOEC “Outstanding Team Member of the Year” Victoria Hellman.

While not a dispatcher, call taker, or supervisor, BOEC Emergency Communications Specialist Victoria Hellman was her co-worker’s clear choice to be recognized as their “Outstanding Team Member of the Year”.

“Eleven years ago, I was invited to apply for the job when they made it available, and it sounded really interesting, because I like the idea of working in emergency services,” said Hellman.

“I help with scheduling, and really anything they need on the dispatch floor that needs to be done, including taking care of equipment, and updating computer programs,” explained Hellman. “I feel honored to be presented with this award.”

Supervisor of the Year
Todd DeWeese

A 23-year BOEC veteran, Supervisor Todd DeWeese, says he feels honored to be named the “Supervisor of the Year”.

If things had worked out as he’d originally planned, this year’s “Supervisor of the Year” would have been for working as an air traffic controller, remarked Supervisor Todd DeWeese at the banquet.

“I studied for the air traffic controller exam and passed with a 100% score, passed the psychological and physical exams, and was waiting to go to the Academy in Oklahoma City,” DeWeese recalled.

But after an extended hiring freeze, he saw an employment ad for “9-1-1 Call Takers” and said to himself, “This might be interesting; I can handle stress well, I stay pretty calm, and it sounded pretty good to me – and it still does!”

The best part of the job, DeWeese said, is the variety of situations that come up every day. “When all hell breaks loose, we get to be creative. And it’s fun to solve problems that help people’s lives. Chaos isn’t good for ordinary people, but it’s something that a dispatcher thrives on!”

His upbeat personality helps him be an effective supervisor, DeWeese said. “I like to have fun with what I do, and I hope that carries over to the people who are working with me, and helps them lighten up and make the day a little less tense.”

Telecommunicator of the Year
Cal Katterman

Senior Dispatcher Cal Katterman accepts the BOEC “Telecommunicator of the Year Award”.

Event chair Perrone described the attributes of a person likely to be nominated for the BOEC “Telecommunicator of the Year Award”:

“It is presented to one who has gone above and beyond the normal work, which is already incredible work, as it is. This is somebody who is always willing to help other employees, who gives extra effort helping the public, and does exemplary work above and beyond the normal.”

This year, his peers selected Cal Katterman for the award.

“It’s a real honor to be chosen; and it’s been quite a journey for me, especially considering my difficult start in this career,” Katterman said. “I actually failed my training the first time through, but the management had enough faith in me to open a call-taker-only classification for a couple years while I re-trained and become a senior dispatcher.

“And now to be chosen ‘Telecommunicator of the Year’ is like ‘icing on the cake’, after all the years of hard training!” he added.

This year’s banquet buffet offers gusts mixed green salad, roasted vegetable salad, mashed potatoes and gravy, roast turkey, roast beef, and vegetarian lasagna – and a nice selection of desserts.

Katterman said it’s a good job for somebody who enjoys customer service, is not afraid to speak on the phone, enjoys variety, and can deal with the stress of fast-paced work while helping people – often during some of the most difficult moments of their lives.

“One call I took was when my uncle was having a heart attack,” Katterman recalled. “I was able to send an ambulance, and give advice and comforting words to my aunt, while the ambulance crew was on their way. It was an especially nice experience for me to be able to serve a family member as a telecommunicator – just as I try to serve everyone who calls.”

It’s a good job, working with top-notch people, Katterman commented. “I’d recommend it for anyone who has the skills and aptitude for a career in emergency communications.”

Congratulations to all of this year’s award recipients. And, a heart-felt “thank you” to all of the BOEC staff who help Portland residents every day.

© 2017 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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