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Emmet County dispatchers: The voice of 911

By Staff | Apr 18, 2014

Emmet County Sheriff Mike Martens with the law center dispatching staff. From left are Martens, Blair Martyr, Melissa Patrick, Holly Van Langen, Emily Roy, Tera Shatto and Jarrod Fischer. Photo by MIchael Tidemann

When you call 911 in Emmet County, you’re most likely going to talk to one of six people who comprise the team of dispatchers at the Emmet County law center.

April 13-19 is National Public Safety Telecommunicators (911 Operators) Week, a time to recognize the people who make a difference in people’s lives day and night.

Serving Emmet County are full-time dispatchers Tera Shatto, Melissa Patrick, Holly Van Langen and Emily Roy with Blair Martyr and Jarrod Fischer serving part-time.

Together, the six-member team boasts an impressive 90 years of service. Patrick has been with the county for 33 years followed by Van Langen at 30. Shatto has been at the control desk for 13, Fischer for nine, Roy for five and Martyr since last October.

During that time, they’ve become intimately acquainted with the rewards and challenges of serving a public that only calls at a time of stress – or tragedy.

“Helping people in their time of need,” is the biggest reward for Fischer, while Shatto enjoys the variety of the work.

“We work with a bunch of good people every day,” said Patrick of the officers with whom they work. “They express appreciation for what we do.”

Obviously, people are usually rattled when they call 911. But there are some things they could do that could help the dispatching team do its job.

For Fischer, if the caller knows his or her location, it helps enormously.

And Patrick said it helps a lot if people let dispatchers ask the questions – after all, they’re trained in getting the most essential information immediately. The dispatcher also needs to ask questions to determine if an ambulance is needed or to determine if an officer’s safety is at risk.

“When people are willing to answer the questions, it’s very helpful,” Patrick said.

Sheriff Mike Martens echoed Fischer’s concern about knowing the incident location.

“We don’t always know where your house is,” Martens said.

Patrick pointed out that landline calls give a more accurate address than cell phone, especially in town where the cell tower is invariably shown as the location. That’s not the case so much out in the country where location can be pinned down a lot more easily.

“The landline is going to pinpoint where they’re at more readily,” Patrick said.

Patrick also asks that people don’t give their cell phones to kids. In one case, kids called 911 42 times.

“The parents don’t realize when you give them (kids) an old cell phone that it still works on 911,” Patrick said.

Martens said it’s also important that people give an accurate location – just saying the Dolliver blacktop could be confusing, for example, since some people might mean north-south N52 while others might mean east-west A17.

And if you’re a farmer doing a controlled burn, Patrick asks that you say just where you’re doing it.

“If you’re going to burn something up, tell us where it is,” said Patrick.

It’s good to know there are real people behind the voices. And they’re there to help with real problems – 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.