PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — Since the start of this year, almost thirty thousand 9-1-1 calls have been answered by Bay County emergency dispatchers.
It’s a job that is rarely seen in action, but oftentimes saves lives.
The second week in April recognizes the hard work of emergency dispatchers across the nation, for National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week.
Over the last weekend, local communications officers were there to answer countless calls that came in to the Bay County Emergency Operations Center when tornadoes blew through the area.
“Oh, it was… It was chaos,” said Communications Officer Alex Pearce. “It keeps you on your toes. You never know what’s going to be on the other end of the line.”
Communications Division Director, Brian Hardin, said dispatchers were answering phones left and right.
“Just one on top of the other, reporting damage, reporting collapsed buildings,” Hardin said. “We had a couple people that were trapped.”
Pearce is a former Bay County firefighter; after getting injured, he moved to the communications division where he now works on the other end of the 9-1-1 calls, on the “thin yellow line.”
“We never really knew how busy it was in here,” Pearce said on Wednesday. “It’s slammed when you’re dispatching all the EMS and fire departments in town.”
He said it can be a difficult job, answering sometimes traumatic cries for help for 12 hours a day and being a voice of hope in the darkness.
“There’s definitely those calls where you get that, kind of, the benefit of getting to help someone whose loved one has passed away and they just want you to stay on the phone until someone gets there because they’re scared,” Pearce said.
While it can be a tough job, at the end of the day, Hardin said it can also be very rewarding work.
“You go home and you know that you’ve done something,” he said.
This week, dispatchers are being recognized all over the country for their service as the ‘first,’ first responders.
“Serving the citizens of Bay County for our 12 hour shift, it’s nice to feel like we’re making a difference,” Pearce said.
Bay County Emergency Management is recognizing all of their hard work this week with swag bags, food and other gifts. Agencies across the area, like the Bay County Sheriff’s Office, are also sending their appreciation.