Calls come in about smoke near Ohio 2 in the Huron area; a woman living on Cleveland Road is suicidal; Erie County Deputy Tony Caponi needs to know if a warrant is still active; and a white Chevy van is stopped in the middle of the road at Ohio 101 and Lucas Street in Castalia.
This is not a job for the nervous or weak-hearted.
“State Route 101 and where? What color is the van? Do you know if he needs medical attention? I will send them out,” says Sgt. Greg Krumnow, a countywide dispatcher operating out of the Erie County Sheriff’s Office.
“301 is on duty” says Vicky Dunn, a fellow dispatcher.
“301, we have a call of a possible disabled vehicle parked on 101 and Lucas,” Krumnow dispatches.
He grabs a nearby can of Mountain Dew and takes a drink. Really, this is not even a busy afternoon.
I spent some time Thursday with the Erie County dispatchers.
We suspect the van’s driver could be experiencing a medical issue, a possible diabetic, but the thing about being a dispatcher is you almost never hear a resolution to a call.
“We can get a frantic call that someone is not breathing,” Krumnow said. “We don’t know what happens after we dispatch help”
Getting help to someone in crisis is what drives Krumnow.
“It’s very rewarding to me that people are going to call me for help,” he said. “It’s a nice feeling. We are needed. If they call us for help they are going to get what they need”
Dispatcher Chris Morris was the third dispatcher working Thursday. Normally there are four dispatchers on any given shift. Each dispatcher sits in front of five screens monitoring where every call is coming from and what each law enforcement officer is doing.
They listen to the calls coming in and help one another.
If necessary, they dispatch for fire crews: Perkins, Bay View, Groton, Margaretta, Huron, Sandusky, Vermilion Township and Kelleys Island. Police departments they can readily dispatch: Erie County Sheriff, Huron, Sandusky, Perkins Township, Castalia and Bay View.
Sandusky police alone are enough to keep a dispatcher running.
During my time with dispatchers, I routinely heard them asking where someone was located.
Cellphone 911 calls do not pinpoint an exact location, so it’s extremely helpful for a caller to give a location, such as an address or an intersection.
The best thing any caller can do for a dispatcher is to remain focused and answer the dispatcher’s questions, particularly what is going on. When a caller says, “Just send an officer here,” it does not help. An officer or deputy is hindered when he walks into a situation blind. It’s potentially dangerous for everyone.
A 911 hang-up call comes in from a cellphone.
Krumnow calls the number back.
“We had a 911 call that hung up from this phone. Is everything OK?”
He starts to chuckle.
The father on the other end is explaining his young son was playing with the cellphone.
That’s another problem, Dunn explains as Krumnow finishes up the call. Cellphones are not toys, and even a cellphone without service will call 911, tying up already busy dispatchers.
“What are the calls you hate to come in?” I asked.
They all agree: any phone call dealing with a child in crisis. The dispatchers fill in areas of earlier call reports in the moments when calls are not coming in.
They work fast. The next call is already coming in.
One of the more unusual calls dispatchers remember answering: a man reporting he broke his penis while having sex.
The afternoon shift usually receives the most dramatic and traumatic calls. The midnight shift usually deals with calls involving drinking.