SPRINGFIELD — When people think of first responders, police officers and firefighters are usually what come to mind.
But as Effingham County E-911 Director Jay Spinks said, "A lot of times, 911 is truly the first responder. We have the first contact with the caller."
For most of us, 911 is a number on our phones. But in an out-of-the-way location in Effingham County sits a building that serves many times as the first link to help in a crisis.
Spinks said, "You know the 911 dispatchers, they're sitting at their consoles. They come in, get ready for their 12-hour shifts. They sit down — on one side of them they have the radio console full of 16 channels they have to monitor on a daily basis for 12 hours and in a major event, a major crisis such as a hurricane, automatically, those 16 channels go to 30 channels they have to start monitoring."
There is a staff of 16, with four to a shift. They work two days then are and off two days. The 12-hour shifts are based on the shifts that law enforcement agencies usually work.
In 2018, E-911 had almost 70,000 calls for service, Spinks said. Effingham County’s population is about 60,000.
When cell phones were first becoming popular back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, a dispatcher could only tell the phone number of a caller or, at the most, the nearest tower to the person in need. But now, dispatchers can tell a caller's location within just a few feet, which is vital in case the caller is a child or an incapacitated person.
Aiding in this capability is “Rapid SOS,” a free service to 911 agencies.The next thing on the horizon is the addition of texting to 911. Spinks said his agency is already equipped for it and is just waiting for the local service providers to be ready to go.
Another new innovation coming soon is the introduction of videoing to 911. If someone is onsite and video recording an incident, they will be able to send it to the dispatchers, giving them an even better idea of what's happening and where.
Spinks said, "The reality of 911 is starting to catch up with the Hollywood version of 911."
E-911 was first implemented in 1993 in the Effingham County Sheriff's Office. As the county started to grow and calls for service increased, it was decided to build the current E-11 facility. It was erected om 2008 and started dispatching in June 2009.
To show how much the need for this service has grown, Spinks said that in 2010 the total cost of service was $27,000 and now it's up to $70,000.
While most of the calls that dispatchers deal with are crisis situations, sometimes they get an opportunity to be part of someone's good times. About 14 months ago, one dispatcher got to help a mother deliver a baby while on Hwy 16. All of the dispatchers are EMD certified (Emergency Medical Dispatch).
Currently, there is one full-time position available and more may be added in the future.
For those interested in applying to be part of this vital service, they can go to the county's website — Effinghamcounty.org. At the bottom of the site, click on “Jobs.”
The director said that because of the nature of the job, 911 dispatchers are hard to find.