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Telecommunications Week honors 911 operators

PHOENIX — Every year during the second full week of April, the nation honors hundreds of thousands of unsung heroes during Public Safety Telecommunicators Week.

“I think of dispatchers as the first responders,” said 911 operator Shirley Dunlap. “We take the phone call, we get that truck on the road and we make a difference right from the get-go.”

Dunlap is one of roughly 100 dispatchers currently employed by the Phoenix Fire Department. These men and women dispatch for over 20 cities around the Valley and answer thousands of calls every day.

The job is rewarding, but emotionally and psychologically taxing for some. These operators deal with life, death and every type of tragedy that happens in between.

“You hang up and you know the person didn’t make it,” said Dunlap. “You think, ‘I was the last person they talked to.’ I will never forget those calls.”

According to APCO International, Telecommunicators Week was conceived in the early 1980s by Patricia Anderson of the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office in California. The idea caught on and APCO led the way for a formal proclamation in October 1991.