The highs and lows of 9-1-1 communicators

At Public Safety Communications in Casper, 'keep calm and carry on' is something they have to live by.
Published: Sep. 12, 2023 at 7:42 PM CDT
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CASPER, Wyo. (Wyoming News Now) - After terrorists flew planes into the twin towers of the World trade Center in 2001... firefighters, paramedics, and police officers rushed to the scene. But it’s the sometimes overlooked 9-1-1 communicators who were frantically dispatching first responders, while trying to calm the fears of those who needed help.

Though it may take two days or more to drive from Wyoming to the east coast... It doesn’t mean Wyomingites were completely separated from the events transpiring on 9/11, as Lori Jackson could tell you. “One of my coworkers had... I think her daughter was in the Pentagon. And then I had another coworker that had an aunt or uncle who was in the towers.”

Jackson has worked for the Public Safety Communications Center in Natrona County for 27 years... And was working the phones that fateful day. “We were getting calls from people... Just asking us... The status of... The responders, the people in the towers. Some people were missing their loved ones, couldn’t get in touch with their loved ones. And you know, for some people in an emergency, the first thing to do is call 9-1-1.”

At Public Safety Communications, ‘keep calm and carry on’ is more than just a catchy phrase. It’s something they have to live by, in order to provide the best support and service.

Vickie VanNorman has been a dispatcher for 15 years. She describes how hectic it can get. “Well, when you’re in the zone, you’re in the zone. Take care of business. Do what you have to do. When you have a minute to take a breath, take a breath. But when 9-1-1 is ringing constantly, you can’t just stop and walk out of the room. You have to take that next call. You take that hard call... Hang up... And that 9-1-1 rings again... And you have to take that next call.”

And she says the bad calls often outweigh the good ones. “It’s real hard for us to talk about traumatic calls, the hard calls. We have a lot of PTSD working here, obviously. And talking about it just brings back really bad memories.”

When asked how she and others cope with the stress, she mentioned peer-to-peer conversations. And she is thankful for the mental health services, like counseling, that Casper Police provides.

So why do telecommunicators like Jackson, VanNorman, and others keep coming back? VanNorman says, “I love this job! Every time I answer the phone, it’s another opportunity to help somebody. It’s another opportunity to save a life. It’s another opportunity to bring life into the world. And hopefully... Be part of the good in their bad day.”