Most of us have had to call 9-1-1 at one time or another. After the stress of the call has abated, one might wonder how the person on the other end of the phone handles it, taking call after call from people in distress. It takes a truly special individual to do this kind of work – and those who do it love it and do it well. The new director of Genesee County’s 9-1-1 Center and some of her staff tell of their commitment to helping people in the community and the first responders.
Jessica Young is one of the 50 dispatchers who answer emergency calls in the greater Flint area. As of May 31, Young will have been in her job for seven years.
“My dad was a police officer, so I like helping people,” she says. “This was always what I wanted to do. You have to be built to handle it as well as trained. You learn to compartmentalize, and have to make sure you decompress.”
She says her favorite part of the job is making sure the emergency responders in the field make it home each night. But fortunately, taking 9-1-1 calls isn’t always stressful. There are heartwarming moments too, like helping an elderly man who was “trapped” in his car find the safety release or bringing back a wandering toddler.
Dispatchers work long hours. Young says her shift is eight to 12 hours, with two days on and two days off. This allows for a family atmosphere to develop.
“I’m basically married to my job,” she adds, with no trace of regret.
“We’re in it together, and there is a lot of support to help with the stress.” —Lisa Marmuziewicz
There are people in this world whose gift is the drive to live on high stress, and Lisa Marmuziewicz is one of them. Her 20-year career as a dispatcher shows her high-octane talent and dedication.
It’s the knowledge that she is part of a group of dedicated professionals from dispatch to the road to the final destination that Marmuziewicz deems her favorite aspect of the job. Police officers, firefighters, emergency medical services professionals and others are part of a county-wide team.
As Marmuziewicz puts it, “We’re in it together, and there is a lot of support to help with the stress. It’s a gift to be part of this team. Everyone does their part to serve this county when the time comes for those that need help, being humble while doing it! It’s what we do!”
She adds that for her, the most fulfilling part of the job is helping when a child makes the 9-1-1 call. “Kids are innocent, and it’s great to be able to reassure a little person until emergency personnel arrive and make sure they are safe.”
James Young (no relation to Jessica) has been on the job for six years after working a number of other jobs in the public service sector. He says that he loves to help people and enjoys the fact that the job offers something different every day.
“You’re never doing the same thing,” he says.
The fast-paced job can get stressful, as others have mentioned. To handle that, he decompresses by spending time with his family and kids.
As a father, he says calls from children “tug on the heartstrings.” One of his most memorable calls was from an autistic child whose mother needed to be taken to the hospital, and it was satisfying to be able to make sure the child and parent were both okay.
For 11 years, Todd Somers has been a 9-1-1 dispatcher. A former firefighter as well as emergency medical technician, he says he never would do anything else. He’s doing what he loves – helping other people.
In June 2017, a man stabbed one of the police officers stationed at Bishop International Airport in what investigators deemed an act of terrorism. Somers took the call and helped make sure the officer got to the hospital, where he received treatment for multiple stab wounds.
“It was such a relief knowing the officer was okay,” Somers says. “Our number one priority is that our EMS workers, police and firefighters go home to their families at night.”
The hardest part of the job, he says, is when a child calls. “Kids are helpless and we have an obligation to help them,” he says. “As dispatchers, we’re stuck in the building, so we don’t know the outcome. It’s different to be on the phone instead of being a first responder.”
The first woman to run Genesee County’s 9-1-1 Center, Spring Tremaine took over from a director who replaced longtime director Lloyd Fayling after he passed away in 2015. Though new, she brings more than 20 years of 9-1-1 experience to the position. After a nationwide search, the 9-1-1 Consortium selected Tremaine, who was born and raised in Flint and Fenton.
Tremaine has built three 9-1-1 centers, and of those three, she has directed two – Ann Arbor Dispatch and Washtenaw Metro. Most recently, Dearborn Police Dispatch went live under her direction in 2017. She also spent 25 years with the Ann Arbor Police Department, retiring as a lieutenant. Despite all that experience and expertise, she remains humble.
“As director, I’ve seen all my staff handle difficult calls,” she says. “They stay with you for years sometimes. It’s hard when they don’t always know what happened to a caller, because they care. I rely on my staff to do their job well and remain professional while serving our citizens and emergency responders. I’m learning from them but I bring a wealth of valuable knowledge from other centers. My people are the true ‘first responders’ and are our hidden heroes.”