Answering the Call
A 3-part Series By Mellany Armstrong December 9-11, 2013
Part 1   |   Part 2   |   Part 3



Answering the Call: Dispatchers experience trauma far from the scene
By Mellany Armstrong

Updated Monday, December 9, 2013 - 1:53pm

You hear the gut-wrenching calls on cop TV shows or on the news.
"We've got shots fired here."

Click here to listen


Now think of the person who took that call. WDEL's Mellany Armstrong talks with 911 call-takers and dispatchers who feel the stress in part one of her series 'Answering the Call.'

Click here to listen




Click here to listen



For 911 public safety operators and dispatchers, some calls are harder than others.

"He said to me, 'Recom, I think I've been stabbed."

Click here to listen



Jayme Wright was on duty as a telecommunicator for police at the New Castle County Communications Center in New Castle the night of September 16, 2011. She was on the radio with Sergeant Joseph Szczerba, and heard words she says will be with her the rest of her life.

"It was a routine-type call. It came in as what we call a disorderly conduct, or possibly a theft from motor vehicle, but nothing major, you know, no shooting," she said.

Click here to listen



Then Sergeant Szczerba yelled, 'Foot pursuit.'

"My blood pressure went up a little bit, but nothing huge. Even when he said to me, 'Recom, I think I've been stabbed,' I thought, 'He's still talking to me, this couldn't be anything more than a flesh wound," she said.

Click here to listen



"And then he yelled '10-40,' which is 'officer in trouble.' And at that point I just didn't know what to think. Then the officers started going on scene, and I could hear in their voices the hollow, scared sound of absolute terror that one of their own was dying," she said.

Click here to listen



Sergeant Szczerba was a co-worker, someone she knew well, but she still had to do her job, continuing to listen.

"You know, still, I'm on the radio and I'm handling what needs to be done. Even if something happens to this one particular officer, if I can't do my job, then these other officers' lives are at stake, so I needed to do what had to be done," Wright said.

Click here to listen



The whole incident lasted eight to 10 minutes.

"So I did it. But was it easy? No, I can't say that was easy. But, yeah, those words will haunt me forever, for sure," she said.

Click here to listen



A first-ever study done in 2012 by researchers at Northern Illinois University showed that 911 call-takers and dispatchers can be just as vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder as police and firefighters.

Dennis Carradin is a licensed professional counselor and serves as the clinical director of the Critical Incident Stress Management team in Delaware.

"Dispatchers tend to hear things that even police officers, firefighters won't hear, because the dispatcher is the first person that's called," he said.

Click here to listen



Michelle Bullock-Farmer has been a 911 call-taker for the Wilmington Police Department for four and a half years.

"I was actually just finished up (with) my probationary period and actually on the phones by myself, I was involved in a hostage situation," she said.

Click here to listen



A teenager had been shot to death. Not only could she hear the man with the gun, she could see him on one of the city's video surveillance cameras.

"And we were watching on the Downtown Visions and we saw him pacing back and forth, with the gun and he was threatening to commit suicide or he wanted to die by police shooting and I had him on the phone the whole time during the whole ordeal," she said.

Click here to listen



For four hours.

Mellany: What happened afterward, then? You got off that call and then what happened? Michelle: "Took the next call. And went home that night, and that was it," she said.

Click here to listen



A few months later, she had to listen to a woman as she watched a teenage driver run over and drag a little boy on a scooter to death.

"For awhile, I used to hear the lady that was, like, screaming trying to get this girl to stop the car. And it was just one of things that, you know, you play back and you play back," she said.

Click here to listen



Coming up in part two of 'Answering the Call,'
"At that moment, I was actually sick, I mean, I was physically throwing up."

Click here to listen


how these traumatic calls affect 911 operators and dispatchers.




















Copyright © Sep 30, 2014, WDEL/Delmarva Broadcasting Company. All Rights Reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



Answering the Call: 911 calls can take their toll
By Mellany Armstrong

Updated Tuesday, December 10, 2013 - 7:25pm

Video player now loading; please wait...

The calls that 911 operators and dispatchers take can affect them mentally and physically.

WDEL's Mellany Armstrong has more in part two of 'Answering the Call.'

Click here to listen




"She hit him, and then she drug his body for, I forgot how many blocks."

Click here to listen



Michelle Bullock-Farmer threw up after handling that call in February 2010 in which a 9-year-old boy riding his scooter was hit by a car and dragged to his death. And the tragedy stayed with her.

"I used to hear the lady that was like, screaming, trying to get this girl to stop the car," she said.

Click here to listen



(nats "Copy, two Capitol PD officers were shot, they are 10-1 at this time.")

Click here to listen



There have been several incidents in the last couple of years in Delaware -- a New Castle County police officer stabbed to death, a Wilmington police officer severely injured when he was shot in the head, and a double murder and suicide at the New Castle County Courthouse in Wilmington -- that have traumatized people who weren't even at the scenes -- the emergency call takers and dispatchers.

"Our call operator begins to paint a picture within their own mind of what's going on."

Click here to listen



That's Jeffrey Miller, chief of emergency communications for New Castle County. He says the operators are trained to remain calm, but some calls just hit home.

"The next phone call they take may be a child who's been found at the bottom of a pool who may be in the area of four or five years old. That's going to have more of an effect on that call operator, because they can relate to their own circumstance with their children like that," he said.

Click here to listen



Bullock-Farmer says the terrible feeling of helplessness contributes to the trauma.

"There's nothing you can do but sit on the phone and listen to the screaming and the crying, other people's emotions, and then to be able to have to sit there and compose your own emotions is a hard task," she said.

Click here to listen



Programs have been in place for police and firefighters for a number of years in Delaware to help them deal with trauma, but not for those who take the initial incident calls. Dennis Carradin is the clinical director of the Critical Incident Stress Management team in Delaware.

"So, they are very much on the front line, just as much as a police officer. If you talk to an emergency responder, you talk to police, you talk to fire, you talk to EMT, they may not see it that way, but it's just a different perspective. They're seeing it on the street value, where the dispatcher is getting it from a rawness," he said.

Click here to listen



Miller says it was after New Castle County Police Sergeant Joseph Szczerba was stabbed to death on the job that they recognized that dispatchers feel stress as much as cops and other emergency responders do on the job.

"You're constantly exposed to something and your brain begins to react to that, and it stores those visualizations that you've either made by hearing it or things that you've seen," Miller said.

Click here to listen



New Castle County dispatcher Jayme Wright says not too long ago, governments didn't see the need to support call-takers.

"Twenty years ago, you were just kind of patted on the back and told 'Good job, get back in there. You'll be fine, everything will be fine.' But that was when you drank your sorrows away," she said.

Click here to listen



Now things are changing.

"Everybody is opening doors for dispatchers, because we are, technically, the first responders. We are the first point of contact for these people, and we hear things that a lot of people should never, ever have to hear," she said.

Click here to listen



Coming up in part three of 'Answering the Call,"

Click here to listen


the special team that helps lessen the stress of the horror dispatchers hear.











Copyright © Sep 30, 2014, WDEL/Delmarva Broadcasting Company. All Rights Reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



Answering the Call: Special team helps w/ trauma after 911 calls
By Mellany Armstrong

Updated Wednesday, December 11, 2013 - 2:05pm

Video player now loading; please wait...

The people who field emergency calls can be in emotional turmoil after a highly stressful event like the shooting of a police officer or the death of a child.

WDEL's Mellany Armstrong reports on a special team that helps them deal with it in Part 3 of 'Answering the Call.'

Click here to listen



Click here to listen



Emergency operators handle thousands of 911 calls each year. But who do these people call when THEY need help?

"There's gonna be that one incident that goes beyond a person's level of coping."

Click here to listen



The Critical Incident Stress Management Team, or CISM, was formed in Delaware in 1989 to help debrief police and other emergency responders after traumatic incidents. It's made up of 200 volunteers in the state.

"These are peers talking to other peers, basically normalizing their reactions, telling them that they are normal people with normal feelings reacting normally to a very abnormal event," he said.

Click here to listen



Dennis Carradin is the clinical director of the CISM team in Delaware.

Click here to listen



Team members meet once a month to discuss crises that have happened and the team's response. Carradin says it wasn't until relatively recently that CISM sessions have been offered to call takers.

"The past four to five years is when we've really started looking at dispatch, saying, these folks really need this help, too," Carradin said.

Click here to listen



Sergeant Harold Bozeman is a coordinator for CISM for Wilmington police officers.

"A little less than a year ago we had an officer that was shot on duty, and in talking to some of the dispatchers that were on that day, they were having a difficult time with that, so when we arranged our regular groups that we do for police officers, we also arranged for several groups for the dispatchers," he said.

Click here to listen



The sessions are not counseling sessions, but debriefings to alleviate stress, and to assess whether a person must be referred for more intensive treatment.

"And the reason it's successful is because it's peers, it's people that you can trust, it's people that you know can empathize with you and can relate to you," Bozeman said.

Click here to listen



Carradin says even though call-takers and dispatchers sit at a desk, they can experience post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms after a bad call.

"Here's that exposure, I got that first phone call, it's very raw, it's very emotional, and now I keep having thoughts when I'm leaving my shift, and I'm feeling something and I'm thinking something that I don't want to feel, and now I want to avoid that thought or feeling," Carradin said.

Click here to listen



Jayme Wright got help from CISM after she listened as Sergeant Joseph Szczerba was stabbed to death on duty. She now wants to be a team member.

"To get some kind of closure, and to hear that every officer, every EMS paramedic that was on scene felt the same way that I did, that they didn't do enough, that their hands were tied, that they couldn't help Joe, that made me feel some comfort," she said.

Click here to listen



Lorraine Williams is a member of the CISM team, and uses the techniques in her job as a New Castle County paramedic.

"My partner and I do it every day, after every call, we talk about the call so that we can put it away and move onto the next one. And there's been tears and there's been anger, and all those feelings and emotions that everybody else has. They come out, because that wall drops and then we slowly build the wall back up again, and that's how we keep going, day after day after day," she said.

Click here to listen








Copyright © Sep 30, 2014, WDEL/Delmarva Broadcasting Company. All Rights Reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




Copyright © 2014, Delmarva Broadcasting Company. All Rights Reserved.   Terms of Use.
WDEL Statement of Equal Employment Opportunity and Outreach