Answering the Call: Inside Northern Michigan 911

911 dispatchers are the lifeline between you and first responders in any emergency.

It’s a demanding job that can be gratifying at times but also incredibly stressful.

And that stress can lead to a high turnover rate in some dispatch centers.

Marie Thompson has been a dispatcher with Roscommon County Central Dispatch for more than 20 years. She admits, it’s a job that can take its toll.

“You kind of get used to it in some ways, you hope you do your best for them. It’s not a job you get a lot of praise in and we’re usually pretty good with staying in the background,” said Thompson.

It’s a job that requires quick thinking and top notch communication.

Tina Shoemaker has been with grand traverse county central dispatch for four years.

“It’s definitely a multi-tasking job, it’s definitely a juggle and it’s definitely one you have to be witty, you have to be on your toes. We’re talking with 911 on the phone, they’re giving us information while we’re relaying it to our guys in the field,” said Shoemaker.

And it’s that stress that’s part of the reason for a high turnover rate in dispatch centers across the country. Vance Stringman is the director of 911 for Roscommon County.

“Having worked the floor for so long, I spent 21 years on the floor, I understand firsthand the stresses they are under, so I have tailored my approach to be supportive during the stressful time. I’ve also created an employee assistance program which provides them some counseling services and get them access to counseling services,” said Stringman.

Grand Traverse County 911 has taken a similar approach to help employees deal with the weight of the job.

“Time off, having the avenues available for them to speak, and having programs available when they need it, and that has evolved over time, and there used to be nothing. It used to be the suck it up mentality, but it’s not like that anymore, I mean if you need to speak to somebody, you need to speak to somebody,” said Leah Hornacek, Deputy Director of Grand Traverse County 911.

It’s a stressful job, but it’s also a lifesaving link between you and first responders, one that you rarely see, but can always count on answering the call.

“You deal with people on their worst days ever and being their calm life line is super rewarding,” said Shoemaker.