NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – It’s National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week and municipalities in Middle Tennessee are using the time to show appreciation for workers answering calls.
“They’re actually the first first responders there’s not a call that goes to the fire department, there’s not a call that goes to the police or to EMS that doesn’t come through them first unless a police officer rolls up on something but he still has to call us and tell us to get him the help he needs,” said Paul McCallister, ENP, RPL, Assistant Director-Support for the Metro Nashville Department of Emergency Communications. “They paint the picture. It’s like a puzzle piece. They take all the puzzle pieces during someone’s hectic time. And they put those pieces together to create what it is that the officers can see through his ears that we’re feeding him through that radio and they do a great job here. We have a team of excellent telecommunicators.”
McCallister is a retired master sergeant in the military and previously worked as a police officer in Dickson. He has a special appreciation for dispatchers having called 911 himself when his car was rear-ended while off duty in Dickson many years ago.
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“I was off duty and had a child in my car and rear-ended pretty good and I remember this call because this is what’s driven me to make sure I take care of the people behind that microphone when someone calls 911 and is as I was — I was crazy distraught,” McCallister recalled. “I remember Jessica saying, Paul, calm down I can’t understand what you’re saying. And it didn’t click to me at that time but I did, I took a deep breath, she calmed me down, and I got the information she needed.”
That’s what he always tries to remember as a leader in their department. In 2021 the Metro Department of Emergency Communications saw a return to higher call volumes as COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.
They processed 1,159,336 calls, which is on par with recent years.
“You have to answer 90% of the calls in 15 seconds or less and 95% of the calls in 20 seconds or less. And we’ve hit both those in February and March. And we’ve been a little understaffed doing that,” McCallister said. “So our people are amazing here. This week, we praise them, but we praise them every week because they’re great at what they do.”
One way to help manage Nashville’s growing population is to have non-emergency requests placed through 311 call takers and hubNashville. In 2020, the department set out on a mission to get the word out. They went from just over 100 requests in January 2021 to averaging about 1,500 every month by the end of the year, which reduces the amount of time their team spends on the phone when they could be answering 911 calls. People can go to the website or app, navigate to the “public safety” request section and report a variety of non-critical issues including non-injury traffic accidents that are not impeding the roadway, improperly parked or abandoned vehicles, and noise violations, loitering, and drug activity.
“Allowing them other ways to get those calls in has really kept that number manageable,” McCallister said. “Having other means and other ways for people to get a hold of us has helped us multitask. Those emergencies and those non-emergencies can be handled in different ways to allow us to be more productive.”
He added that Hub.nashville.gov has the proper questions that need to be answered for the type of call the person is reporting, so dispatchers can get the right help to the right place or an officer can give them a returned phone call.