Every year during the second week of April, the telecommunications personnel in the public safety community are honored. In light of COVID-19, this group of professionals is under greater than usual pressure and anxiety for the first responders and citizens they support. In Portland, there are 33 dispatchers who respond to 911 calls and serve the police and fire departments of Portland, South Portland, and Cape Elizabeth.
“It ’s in such times as we find ourselves now that the critical and unending work of our first responders becomes plainly evident,” said Portland Police Chief Frank Clark. “The men and women in the Portland Regional Communications Center are our first, yet unseen, first responders. They are the voice of calm during moments of chaos. Please join me in recognizing and thanking them for their remarkable efforts and service to our local communities and regional public safety agencies.”
Portland’s dispatchers are working in two locations for the first time so they can follow proper social distancing as much as possible. Ordinarily there are six to ten dispatchers on each shift in the same room, and currently the City has five to six working at the Emergency Communications Center located at the Police Department and two or three who are working out of the back-up operations center on Munjoy Hill.
"Now more than ever having timely information relayed to our first responders is crucial to keeping our firefighters and police officers healthy and safe so that we may provide emergency response to our three communities,” said Fire Chief Keith Gautreau. “For that, I am grateful to them."
“We have a dedicated professional group at the Portland Regional Communications Center that have experienced a wide range of emergencies and continue to provide life saving skilled services,” stated PRCC Director Andy Dziegielewski.
Portland Downtown, a 501c4 non-profit downtown improvement district, partners with the Portland Police Department on the Downtown Cadet Program and also hosts the annual Police Awards Breakfast, which recognizes individuals going above and beyond the call of duty. Among those receiving awards are the dispatchers, whose work is essential to ensuring that emergency services arrive at the right location and with the necessary information they need to address the call. Dispatchers also provide vital information to the caller, keeping them calm while help is on the way.
“We are honored to be able to provide a small token of appreciation to the dispatchers, while also supporting a local business during this uncertain time. Dispatchers are truly lifesavers and even more so now, with increased risks to public health and safety due to COVID-19”, said Casey Gilbert, executive director. Portland Downtown is purchasing gift cards for all 33 dispatchers to a local restaurant as a way to recognize their efforts.
Les Smith, the Police Officer’s union president, describes dispatchers as the officer’s “guardian angels.” “We are blessed to have the best in the business at the Portland Regional Communications Center,” said Les Smith. “They are working tirelessly to keep everyone safe while never asking for anything in return.”
National Telecommunicators Week was initially set up in 1981 by Patricia Anderson of the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office in California. It’s a time to celebrate and thank those who dedicate their lives to serving the public.