Apr. 18—When Linda Hall was 18 years old, she applied for a job as a dispatcher at the Owensboro Police Department. She spent 27 years as a dispatcher and retired in 2005.
Shortly after joining the department, Hall met a member of the department's command staff, who was dismissive of her abilities.
"(He) came in and said, 'You'll never make it, because you're so young,'" Hall recalled Tuesday, while visiting the department. "I said, 'I'll show him.'"
Hall and other current and former dispatchers were recognized for their dedication by 911 Director Paul Nave, members of OPD, city and county fire departments, and the sheriff's department, as part of Telecommunications Week.
"When tragedy hits, 911 call takers are the first line of defense," Nave said.
Last year, 911 dispatch handled 65,000 calls for service, he said.
"I'm grateful we have professional telecommunicators that support you guys every single day," Nave told the audience of law enforcement officers and firefighters.
Norman Byers started out as a firefighter in Muhlenberg County and then became an emergency medical technician on an ambulance crew. Byers, who has worked as a dispatcher for more than 20 years, said his experience as a firefigher and EMT aid his work as a dispatcher.
"I'm trying to put myself in their shoes" and provide extra information to help responders rushing to a scene, Byers said. Part of the job at dispatch is making sure officers and responders at a scene are safe, he said.
"I try to preach that to dispatchers, (that) you're not done when a unit gets on scene," Byers said. "... We work to make sure everybody goes home at the end of the day."
Byers said he enjoys the work, but moving to dispatch after being an EMT and firefighter was a transition.
"You want to be there" at the scene, providing help, he said.
Angel Szefi, who has been a dispatcher for 16 years, started in another county when she was 18 years old.
"I was 18, a new mother and needed a job with medical insurance," Szefi said. "I never thought I would be making a career of it, but I did.
"I could have found a Monday through Friday job, but I don't know if I would have ever felt a true purpose that I did with this job," Szefi said. "At the end of the day, I feel like I made a difference."
Dispatchers get to know and rely on other members of the law enforcement and first responder community, Szefi said.
"I like the relationship we've built with the people we work with," Szefi said. "It's like a family environment. I know these people personally, and I know, if I needed something, I could depend on them."
Hall said the job was demanding, but she tried to not internalize the emergency calls she worked.
"You let it roll off your shoulders," she said.
She enjoyed dispatch when it was busy, she said, and was sad when she retired due to hearing loss.
"I enjoyed it," Hall said. "It broke my heart when I retired."