ROCKLAND — From first spark to last engine returning to quarters, the recent fire at Dragon Cement Products in Thomaston encompassed approximately three hours of time. Yet, in that duration, three Knox County dispatchers communicated with 11 fire departments, the 75 responders within those departments, local law enforcement, Central Maine Power, Waldo and Lincoln county dispatchers, and all of the exterior fire departments who provided station coverage for the towns on scene.
Each volunteer firefighter announced the status of being en route to retrieve trucks at each station. The responders then announced that they were en route to the scene. Upon arrival, they announced their location, then asked dispatch to ask scene command where they should set up. As duties ended, each department told the KCRCC of their departure.
Dispatch kept track of every person, every movement.
All, while doing the same on a smaller scale for a chimney fire in Camden that occurred at the same time.
On another day, a woman became disoriented while walking her dog in a wooded area of Washington. Because she called 911, dispatchers were able to pinpoint her location on their 911 map, and guide her to a tote road, and then a larger road, where she met up with a deputy.
“These events and many others go on every day, and for the most part, go un-noticed by the general public,” said Knox County Commissioners, in a joint statement.
Wednesday, April 18, the Commissioners convened a special meeting at the Communications Center and shook the hands of those who not only juggle those balls through roller coasters of emotion, but who do so in an ever-changing world of technology and training expectations.
Tim McLaughlin has been working as a dispatcher with KRCC for almost a year now. For him, every day is new. Every day is different.
Though his sits – or stands – for long hours at a time in a two-room space on Park Street in Rockland, his voice, and his written word, reach all corners of the region – and beyond – hundreds of times per shift.
It is his voice, and the voices of his co-workers, as well as his ability to remain organized, dedicated, quick-thinking, compassionate, and level-headed that prompted Commissioners to release a National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week proclomation in their honor.
Forty years ago, the dispatcher role was considered a secretarial position, according to Linwood Lothrop, director of communications for KRCC. They used telephones, and when they needed lunch breaks, any police officer off the street could cover. Today, each dispatcher receives six months of specialty training in a myriad of topics. If no other dispatcher of equal training is available for coverage, breaks are limited to eating at the consoles and walking around the room – never venturing far. Never beyond arm’s reach of a radio.
In front of their consoles, three computer screens light up a plethora of information. Each worker simultaneously shoulders telephone receivers for conversations with callers, speaks into a microphone attached to the scanner system, and types information via keyboard or touch screen. Some use a foot pedal to operate the microphone system.
“It’s definitely more than I expected,” said McLaughlin.
From the rural backwoods of Lincolnville (whose fire department is Knox jurisdiction, yet law enforcement belongs to Waldo) to the remote island of Vinalhaven, (where any medical emergency requires coordinating transport by air or sea) a honed system of jigsaw puzzle pieces seemingly occur instantly for the betterment of the situation.
In a matter of minutes, Knox dispatchers may instruct law enforcement to check on a possible violent domestic situation brewing. During fires, they not only keep track of every responding individual and department, but also set police and the electrical or gas company into motion as well.
On top of that, these “unsung heroes of the emergency services,” as the Commissioners described them, continue to keep their calm and save lives while three dispatch positions remain unfilled.
“Hearing the job that these folks here do, compared to other dispatch centers around the state, they are head and shoulders above,” said Camden Fire Chief Chris Farley, who attended the ceremony, along with Union Asst. Fire Chief Jesse Thompson and Rockland Police Chief Chris Young.
“They do a tremendous job for us,” Farley said.
Knox County Commissioners are:
Dorothy G. Meriwether, District 1 (Owls Head, Rockland, South Thomaston and Thomaston)
Chairman Richard L. Parent, Jr. , District 2 (Cushing, Friendship, St. George, Union, Warren and Washington)
Sharyn L. Pohlman, District 3 (Appleton, Camden, Criehaven Township, Hope, Isle au Haut, Matinicus Isle Plantation, Muscle Ridge Islands, North Haven, Rockport and Vinalhaven)
Reach Sarah Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org