First Responders: The initial call

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kristina Overton
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs Office
Editors Note: This is part one of a four part series highlighting the teams that make up the first responder units.

A phone rings.

Someone answers, "911, where is your emergency?"

Not many people are aware of the position of power that a 911 dispatcher holds. As some of the worst events occur, a 911 dispatcher is solely responsible for distributing that vital information to the proper counterparts. For the first 10 minutes of an emergency situation, a dispatcher 'controls the chaos,' and sends out relief when people need it the most.

"Everything from fires, break-ins and medical emergencies go through this room," said Tech. Sgt. Lincoln Seals, 341st Civil Engineer Squadron fire dispatch non-commissioned officer in charge. "When everything goes wrong in someone's life, we're the first ones they talk to. It's our responsibility to get that information out as accurately and quickly as possible to assist that person."

Malmstrom Air Force Base has a joint dispatch facility that was stood up in 1998, which includes a fire-department dispatcher and a dispatcher from security forces. Working closely together allows for a more efficient release of information, improves the effectiveness of emergency responses and eliminates duplicate emergency information.

Sergeant Seals has done emergency service for 12 years, and manages the basic operations of the fire department side.

"I work as a dispatcher," Sergeant Seals said, "but I also supervise the administrative areas as well. We have six guys who work in the dispatch area, and the position is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Regardless of the hours, we're helping people. Any firefighter would tell you the same thing."

On their monitors, fire-department dispatchers can view every building on the installation and watch them for fire alarms. Should a site have an alarm to sound, a notification can be seen on the screen and a unit will be sent to make sure that the incident is under control.

The security forces dispatcher also monitors alarms on base to make sure facilities remain safe. Should any incident occur involving law enforcement, the security personnel dispatches the appropriate response to the incident that's occurring.

"This job can vary between small emergencies to life changing ones," said Staff Sgt. Steven Harper, 341st Security Forces Squadron 911 dispatcher. "It's never the same stuff every day. Things are constantly happening and changing. With our job, you never really see that person's face, but you're helping out in a way that could mean everything to them. That's what makes what we do worth it."

Security forces also assist in maintaining the protection of vaulted facilities, the base armory and others that require more crucial safety measures.

"Being able to work next to a fire dispatcher helps out, especially when it comes to bigger incidents," Sergeant Harper said. "It can be distracting sometimes in cases of emergencies, and it could be as simple as a fireman looking over his shoulder to say 'Hey, I need this information,' for us to get things taken care of as proficiently as possible."

A new state-of-the-art enhanced 911 system also helps to assist the security forces and firefighter dispatchers. The new alarm system has upgrades that help them retrieve 911 call information faster, improves their callback abilities, as well as provides many other abilities which essentially help get the dispatched units to the incident faster. Having the newer computer software, radios and equipment also puts Malmstrom's dispatch capabilities in line with their civilian counterparts.

Malmstrom's 911 center has a working relationship with Cascade County and other agencies in the area. The 911 center routinely takes calls and dispatches both law enforcement patrols and fire department personnel to assist civilian agencies for off base incidents.

Being the first to respond to emergency phone calls is an essential and important position to hold. The dispatchers are the first people in a corresponding chain of events that lead to resolution of incidents and occurrences of the installation.

Don't worry, help is on the way - because the dispatchers sent it.