Portland’s ‘9-1-1’ operators honored during National Public-Safety Telecommunications Week

It isn’t just sophisticated equipment that rushes emergency help on its way; it’s highly trained people. Meet three of Portland’s finest emergency communicators right here  …

Portland’s “Telecommunicator of the Year”, dispatcher Kate Williams says she “likes helping people”.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The term “9-1-1” is often associated with people trained to dispatch rapid emergency response, show poise under pressure, aid with compassion in times of distress, and make critical decisions within seconds.

“Many people do not stop to think about these individuals, until they experience an actual emergency themselves,” says Bureau Of Emergency Communications (BOEC) Public Information Officer Todd DeWeese.  “You may never meet them‚ or even know their names‚ but these professionals make the difference between life and death, in many instances.”

This year, BOEC hosted its Sixteenth Annual Employee Awards Banquet on April 11 at Lakeside Gardens.

“Tonight is all about recognizing the significance of the 9-1-1 Call Center,” DeWeese explains, “and recognizing accomplishments during the past year. We took over 1 Million calls in 2006. We’re answering a lot of calls‚ helping a lot of citizens‚ and we’re doing it with fewer personnel.”

Telecommunicator of the Year
Dispatcher Kate Williams is given BOEC’s highest honor; she’s conferred the title, “Telecommunicator of the Year”.

Williams tells us, “I like helping people. We help police officers, firefighters, and medics do their jobs. This award is quite an honor.”

Senior dispatcher Stephanie Solomon-Lopez is one of the co-workers who nominated Williams for the award, “Although she’s been with us for about four years, she’s very good at what she does. She came in with a positive attitude. It’s easy to get personally ‘beaten down’ by some of the calls we get. She stays positive. Our job is to help people, but she goes above and beyond.”

Dispatcher Kim Bronson also nominated Williams. “Kate has become a good dispatcher. But even more, outside the bureau, she is a volunteer with TIPS. By working with TIPS, she goes above and beyond the call of duty. She’s amazing.”

TIPS volunteers, we learn, go to emergency events at which individuals have just experienced a traumatic situation. They help these individuals deal with the immediate impact of the event. Williams used her vacation time to take the training class, and she volunteers at least 12 hours a month on her time off.

BOEC Public Information Officer, and Call Center supervisor, Todd DeWeese was voted “Supervisor of the year”.

Supervisor of the Year
Dispatcher Katherine Stevenson says she nominated Todd DeWeese as “Supervisor of the Year” because “he cares”.

“Todd really listens to us. He tries to see our point of view. He helps us build our skills by giving us valuable input and feedback. And, he helps make my job fun. Even when we’re going through a difficult time, he helps by lifting our mood and keeping our spirits up. That is very important.”

There is often drama, negativity, and unhappiness surrounding their work, Stevenson continues. “No one calls 9-1-1 because they’re having a wonderful day. It is easy to focus on the negativity. Todd helps us stay in balance, and be a ‘whole’ person.”

Asked about his award, DeWeese tells us, “It is always great to be recognized by your peers, those whom you supervise and by your own bosses. It means a lot to me. I’ve won this award before, and that trophy is still proudly displayed in my home.”

Meet Team Member of the Year, Connie Cohen

Team Member of the Year
The 2006 “Outstanding Team Member of the Year” honors go to Connie Cohen in BOEC’s Information Technology Department.

“No, I don’t take calls. I maintain the computer systems that help dispatchers to their work.”

We asked why the 6-year veteran of BOEC chooses to work with the bureau. “These folks are all my heroes,” Cohen replies. “To do things that help the dispatchers do their jobs well‚ and through them, help our community‚ it is a wonderful thing for me to do. I love my job.”

Employees foot the bill for their annual BOEC banquet — not taxpayers. Here you see some of the bureau’s “most famous” workers dishing up a full-course dinner at Lakeside Gardens on SE Foster Rd.

Do you have the “right stuff”?
We’ve reached the 30-year mark; some of our staff members are retiring,” mentioned DeWeese. “We’re always looking for qualified people who are willing to train to be a dispatcher.”

Interested? Call (503) 823-0911‚ classes start four times a year.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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