On Wednesday, dispatchers at the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Emergency Communications Center should have been gathering to celebrate each other’s successes.
A ceremony is usually held annually during the National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, which was established in 1981 to honor dispatchers.
But COVID-19 nixed it this year.
“Typically, we would have a big ceremony,” said Mike Sherman, one of the ECC’s two operations team managers. “We’ve been doing little things throughout the week. We want them to know that they’re appreciated.”
Sherman, who has worked for the ECC for nearly 19 years, said dispatchers have been adhering to social distancing guidelines for weeks to avoid catching and spreading the virus.
He said dispatchers are facing a situation they’ve never had to face before: being a victim of the emergencies they’re dispatching for.
“It’s a unique situation,” Sherman said. “Typically, first responders are not directly impacted by the things going on around us.”
He said the virus is something the dispatchers can contract and spread, so strict protocols have been put in place.
“We’re part of it as well,” he said. “We’re coming to work, putting on masks and having our temperatures taken.”
He said plans are in place in case an outbreak hits the 911 center.
Additionally, dispatchers have implemented a screening process for incoming calls to determine if a person needing help might have the virus. That information is passed on to responding firefighters, EMTs and police officers.
Throughout the week, to honor the dispatchers, staff have been hanging posters in hallways to honor accomplishments. They also have been posting segments on Facebook to highlight some of the dispatchers.
“I’m super proud of my team here,” Sherman said “They’ve lived up to the challenges of this peculiar situation.”
Chad Siever, who also serves as an operations team manager, said dispatchers aren’t forgotten, even though the week won’t go on as normally planned.
“This week is always so special,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to reflect on the hard work that we do.”
The ceremony would have recognized dispatchers for numerous achievements from 2019, including helping to deliver two babies, saving multiple lives and coordinating responses to critical events, such as shootings.
“What they do is so critical for our community,” Siever said. “I’m so proud to work with them.”
He said it is honorable that everyone showed up to work without complaint.
“Everyone shares a level of concern for their families and their co-workers, but ultimately, everyone has come to work with the same drive to execute the mission of the ECC,” he said. “Everyone has adapted, and continues to adapt, as a team. When this is done, we’re going to be stronger as an agency, and stronger as individuals.”