PROVO — Picture yourself sitting at a desk with six telephones. Let's say two start ringing at the same time. A bit awkward, but manageable.
Now, imagine all six phones ringing off the hook for three hours. Think you can handle it?
Provo's dispatchers did on Feb. 17, 2008, when a fiery explosion rocked the Pacific States Cast Iron Pipe Co., shaking homes for miles around and prompting a flood of calls to 911.
"With all those lines going off, I don't know how they were able to do it," said Provo Police Lt. Jeff Lougee, who was dispatch manager at the time. "It was multitasking at its utmost at that moment."
The Provo City Communications Center, the Valley Emergency Communications Center and the DPS/Box Elder Communications Center were all honored Friday by the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials for their calm yet quick responses to emergencies during the 2008 year.
"What the dispatchers do every day is so important," said Gigi Smith, president of the Utah chapter of APCO. "(To some) they're just a voice behind a telephone. But people don't realize what they do in a day's work."
VECC dispatchers were honored for their amazing ability to stretch on Aug. 25, 2008, when they had to route emergency officials to the Corner Canyon fire in Draper, which enveloped 800 acres of brush and threatened homes.Then 40 minutes later, they helped orchestrate a response to a three-alarm blaze in West Valley City.
Normally the center handles roughly 2,500 to 4,000 calls a day. However, on this summer day, the center took in 650 in the first hour of the fire alone, said VECC fire operations manager Mike Veenendaal.
"This award represents the great jobs of all our call-takers," Veenendaal said. "It requires a team effort in this type of situation, it really does. If you don't have everyone pulling together, it's difficult to pull off something like that."
Provo's dispatchers were honored for their ability to get important information to those who needed it, despite being inundated with calls from neighbors worried the explosion was in their neighborhood.
At some points, lines were so jammed that dispatchers had to use personal cell phones to contact Lougee and fire officials.
The chemical explosion at the plant injured 11 people and shut the plant down for several weeks.
Normally Provo has four dispatchers working Sunday nights, but luckily, this night there were four plus two trainees who are now full-time employees. Lougee also praised another dispatcher who heard the 10 p.m. explosion at home, knew they would be inundated and came into work on her own.
"This group that was involved are some of our most experienced dispatchers," Lougee said. "We were lucky to have our A team on. They're a fun group; they like that kind of pressure; they like doing their job knowing that they've done it to the best."
Provo's Becky Berge, who won Dispatcher of the Year, also was working the night of the explosion where her "extreme ability to multitask" came in very handy, Lougee said.
Along with being an exceptional dispatcher, Berge is a communications training officer who helps instruct new hires, a tactical dispatcher who works with officers during hostage and negotiation situations and an expert as it relates to Provo's use of the Bureau of Criminal Identification system.
"Becky is the type of employee who not only works hard on her assignments but also works to promote teamwork between her co-workers," wrote Heather Perkins, Berge's dispatch shift supervisor in a letter of recommendation to APCO. "She is not a flashy, attention-seeking employee wanting constant validation for her good works. Instead, she works quietly and consistently to keep the dispatch center running smoothly and cohesively."
Other winners include:
Supervisor of the Year: Dee Bird, Davis County Sheriff's Office
Administrator of the Year: Tina Roylance, Layton Police Department
Technician of the Year: Mark Whetsel, VECC
Unit Citation Award: Layton Police Department, taffing
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