The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

By Wendel Sloan column
Columnist 

Dispatcher true community servant

 


With my lightning-quick moves in basketball shorts, the only task more stressful for 32-year-old Carl Smith than guarding me in jeans is being a 911 dispatcher.

Working for Portales Communications, a city entity, he sees the worst and best of humanity.

Handling calls from suicide threats to homicides to fatal accidents, it is the “compassion and professionalism” of first responders who allow him to see the best of humanity.

“I’m proud that everyone I work with does their best to ensure that our community gets the help they need,” Smith said.

To become certified, he passed a three-week course at the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy in Santa Fe. He has also earned other certifications and receives ongoing training.

Born in Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1985 and a 2004 graduate of Boswell High School in Oklahoma, he has done “a little bit of everything” — including being a security guard, ranch hand, convenience store clerk, parts salesman and heavy-equipment operator.

For 18 months he has been a dispatcher on the “graves” shift (9 p.m. to 7 a.m.), but previously worked in the position for five years.

Smith said 90 percent of his job is relatively stress free and 10 percent “absolute screaming terror.”

He may go hours without talking to anyone, or get a car crash, grass fire and three ambulance calls in five minutes.

“The calls vary drastically from day to day — everything from barking dogs to severe car wrecks,” Smith said.

“From time to time people either dial the wrong number or don’t understand our jobs. I’ve had people trying to get movie times, phone numbers to businesses in other states and even telemarketers reach the 911 line.

“I’ve worked fatal accidents, children who’ve passed away, domestic abuse, suicidal subjects and one lady going into labor.”

He said the calls affect him and the other dispatchers deeply.

“There are times when you can hear a caller crying over a loss,” Smith said. “You try and keep their spirits up while you get help to them.”

Other times he can hear callers still laughing at a joke.

“I’ve had intoxicated people call and scream obscenities at me,” Smith said. “I’ve also had people who were just frustrated with situations and needed to vent.”

Suicidal callers are “looking for an authority figure to help them, others a counselor to listen to them and some are just looking for a messenger for their last words,” he said.

“I’ve spent two-plus hours with callers who were trying to work up to the act, but I was able to talk them down.

“Each person’s troubles and needs are different and you have to be flexible enough to bend to the needs of the person in crisis.”

He said helping people is the only reason he stays in the job.

“Life is a gift and the only thing we are sure of is the moment we are living right now. Next week, tomorrow, even five minutes from now everything could be different,” Smith said.

“Take the time to appreciate the things and people that surround you.”

Contact Wendel Sloan at:

wendel.sloan@yahoo.com

 

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