Communications Officer Kristi Sowell readies for a call at Athens-Limestone County 911. Sowell is one of 12 full-time dispatchers, who rotate four 12-hour shifts. 

When an emergency happens, there's a group of people on the other end of the 911 call, trained to provide help. They are the first in a line of first responders, working to calmly gather information and dispatch help as quickly as possible.

Through telecommunications, these people have helped deliver babies, walked someone through a crisis, located the missing and worked to save lives.

The group is known as the nation's communications officers and dispatchers. Each year, the public servants are honored in April during National Public Safety Telecommunications Week, but this year was a little different because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Though celebrations were canceled or postponed, Athens-Limestone County 911 Director Brandon Wallace doesn't want his staff's work to go unnoticed. Wallace said they are often unsung heroes who serve as a vital link between the community and the fire, medical and law enforcement agencies, and are public servants dedicated to safeguarding life and property.

“They really enjoy what they do,” Wallace said. “They're that calming voice on the other end of the line to get you the help you need, whatever it may be.”

The communications officers are trained and given aptitude tests to ensure they have the skill sets the department is seeking. They also have to remain calm under pressure, because it could be someone they know having an emergency such as a parent, child or friend.

The position requires dedication, because it's not a 9-5 job. Athens-Limestone County 911 has 12 full-time and four part-time dispatchers, who are currently averaging 114 calls a day. There are also four trained dispatchers who serve in an administrative role. Three dispatchers rotate in four 12-hour shifts.

“They are not out in the public and on the road,” Paige Crouch said. “Nobody ever sees them, and they get forgot a lot.”

Wallace said he wants to make sure they are not forgotten.

Communications Officer Kristi Sowell said she comes from a public safety family, and it is what is grew up knowing.

“It's what I do,” she said. “Once you get started in public safety, you really can't do anything else. It's who you are. It's like nothing else you've ever done.”

“You have to love it,” Wallace added.

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