In honor of National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, the Sentinel-Echo reached out to Michael Holt, director of the London-Laurel Communications Center. Holt shared insight into his previous experience and what a day is like at an emergency dispatch center.
"London and Laurel County have an extraordinary group of first responders," said Holt. "When a 911 call comes in, we have a vast pool of responders we can dispatch to handle every situation."
In 2019, Holt's team answered 40,255 911 calls. His center has to be staffed 24/7 to handle the multitude of calls coming throughout any time of the day.
"We're on 10-hour shifts, but there's times we have to stay longer because if somebody calls in, the phones can't go unanswered," Holt explained. "Once I had to work a full 15-16 hours during a snow storm in 2014 or 2015. You have a huge storm come through -- a tornado, incremental weather -- you're going to have a lot of calls and multiple agencies involved."
Holt joined the London-Laurel Communications Center in 2013. Previously, he served 24 years as a member of the London City Fire Department and 10 years as part of the Laurel County Rescue Squad. He also spent 25 years serving managerial duties with Wal-Mart and Lowe's Home Improvement.
"When managing people, your biggest thing is knowing that everybody looks at things in so many different ways. You have to take everybody's perspective into account, but also keep them focused on the same outcome. We have to completely focus on taking the key points of a 911 call and dispatching it out to the correct agency," said Holt.
Holt was in the London City Fire Department from 1996 through 2019. He joined as a way to help the community and the people within it. Holt says his job at the 911 center and his time at the fire department go hand-in-hand.
"Knowing what the fire department's going to need before they're even paged, knowing what they're going to be asking, that's a big deal. Knowing that the very next thing they're going to need after the address is where's the nearest water hydrant. What's the other exposures? Does the property next to it have an LP tank that's facing the same side as the fire is on? It makes a huge difference, especially any time they hire a new dispatcher," he added.
Holt estimates that 10 percent of the calls they get through the 911 line would not be considered an emergency. He explained that usually, these calls come from those unable to find another number or are calling from a cell phone without an active cell phone service. Still, the 911 center does what it can to help those who call.
"They might call and say 'I'm sorry to call you on the 911 line, my phone didn't have any minutes left, but my family's hungry. Where can I go or can somebody come to help us with food?'," Holt elaborated. "We had someone who was homeless call a 911 only phone. It was going to be really cold and night, and they called and asked if they could get some assistance to the homeless shelter or to a local church."
The dispatch team was able to direct this caller to the Connect Missional Church in the New Life Worship Center. Holt said this church offers non-perishable foods, blankets and clothing, all for free.
"Every 911 call has its own problems — being able to decipher quickly, we'll be able to send the right amount of people, and we're asking the right questions to get everything they'll need before they're on the scene," Holt explained.
If already employed and looking for a job as a first responder, Holt recommends seeking into a volunteer fire department. He said that, even if you aren't looking to go into a burning building, there are many other aspects where one can help. While volunteers enter a fire, someone needs to stay back to pull the hose, pump the truck and drive the truck.
"I am very proud of our 911 dispatchers," Holt said, "They care about the job and are proficient in handling 911 calls from people that are maybe having the worst day of their life."