A Look Into the Life of a 911 Dispatch Operator

Pelican is lucky enough to have a team made up of many talented individuals. We all come from different walks of life and have our own unique personal and professional experiences.

One of these Pelican team members is Jessica Swaggart, who worked as a 911 Dispatch Operator for four years.

We asked Jessica about her experience during this period of her career, and we are excited to share some of her unique insights!

What made you want to apply for a job as a 911 Operator?

My dad was a reserve deputy when I was a small child. I was always intrigued by the radio and the voice on the other end. I had the opportunity to intern my last semester of high school with Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office 911 Dispatch, and I was hired right after graduation.

What is the service area for our local 911 Office?

In Louisiana, 911 is divided by parish. If you dial 911 in Livingston, you will be connected to LPSO. If you are near the parish line or your phone call hits a tower out of parish, you may reach the incorrect agency.

It is imperative that you know and tell the call taker your address or exact location. If you did reach the incorrect agency, the call taker will transfer you to the appropriate one.

What certifications did you acquire?

I was provided the opportunity to obtain numerous certifications. It is really important to be well-rounded as a 911 dispatcher because there is no singular thing that you do. You have to be prepared and willing to do whatever the job calls for in that moment.

The last class I took was an Active Shooter Training that was given to us to have everyone prepared to serve our Parish in case we ever found ourselves answering calls in that terrifying situation.

Have you ever gotten the opportunity to meet face-to-face with someone that you assisted over the phone?

I had the privilege of meeting an elderly man that called often for assistance with his sick wife. He would call 1-2 times a day for about a six-month period. Once his wife passed he came to visit us in dispatch. It was wonderful to get to hug him and give him our condolences.

What was your favorite thing about working as a 911 Operator?

My favorite part of working as a 911 Operator would have to be getting the opportunity to help someone and getting to be the voice of reason or peace in their most chaotic moments.

What sort of calls were most difficult or hit home for you?

My least favorite thing about working in the 911 center, especially since becoming a mother, was having to take any calls where a child is injured or severely sick. You have to remain professional and get the information needed for the responding units while trusting that by doing your job it will help the caller and child in the long run. At the same time, you wish you could reach through the phone and comfort the child and/or the caller depending on the situation.

Did you receive many accidental calls, and if so how did you handle those situations?

Although I never got angry when someone would accidentally dial 911, it is important to remember to stay on the line if you do accidentally dial. If you fail to do so the operator will have to call you back. Typically, you will just tell them it was a mistake, and they will ask for your name for the recording and disconnect.

We did receive some prank calls occasionally, but not too often. Also, if you give your child a disconnected cell phone to play with, remember that it can still dial 911. Please take the battery out or put it in “airplane mode” before letting them play with it.

What is the most common reason for the calls you received while working as a 911 Dispatch Operator?

The most common 911 calls that I can think of would be civil matters and/or disturbances. This is typically a disagreement between neighbors, spouses, or roommates. These calls can typically be split into active/inactive and verbal/physical in classification.

The position of a 911 Operator seems like it would be one that comes with more stress than your typical 9-5. How were you able to maintain a work/life balance, and keep the emotional stress of the job from affecting your personal life?

I do not believe there is a way to completely separate our work life from our personal life in any profession, but a key is learning to trust yourself. I had to learn to trust my judgment and how I chose to apply my training to each call. Once I learned to do that, I was able to go home knowing I did the best I could for each caller.

911 dispatchers play a truly pivotal role in our communities and it is an amazing experience for those lucky enough to hold those positions. We’re thankful to have gotten the chance to take a glimpse behind the scenes of the 911 call center thanks to Jessica sharing her experience with us. We are equally as lucky to have members of the Pelican team with such unique backgrounds and skill sets.

What other unique career would you like to hear more about? Let us know in the comments below!