“Where can I get a vaccine?”
“So-and-so is having a large gathering.”
“So-and-so isn’t wearing a mask.”
These are some of the calls that Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency call-taker Dawn Floyd has heard during the pandemic.
Working the phones for 29 years at CRESA, she’s heard it all — but the pandemic is a unique period of history, and it’s reflected in calls to 911 or 311, the agency’s nonemergency number.
“Lots of calls came in about nonmask compliance when it first started,” Floyd said. “People were calling all the time; people wanting to turn people in for large gatherings. People wanted to know where they could get a shot.”
Not to mention, she said, real medical emergencies from people impacted by COVID-19.
“We had to change the way we do business. We had to change our protocols,” said Floyd, 51.
But Floyd takes it all in stride. She’s one of only two call-takers for the agency right now, while two other positions remain unfilled, she said. Call-takers are the first to answer a call before emergency dispatchers.
“I grab calls all day long. It’s myself and one other person. Staffing for 911 centers, it’s tough. It’s tough to get people to do this job,” she said.
Floyd grew up in Battle Ground, where she still lives with her husband and daughter.
The Columbian caught up with Floyd to learn more.
How has your role been impacted by the pandemic?
You know, I feel very blessed because — I’ve been here 29 years, and I’ve never had to worry about being laid off. Job stability for me, I am very thankful and blessed that I do have this job, but I can say we’ve taken those calls from people who have been impacted by COVID-19. They’re unemployed, lost their jobs — not just their jobs, their benefits, mode of transportation, food — all those things. We take those calls. How do we get those folks the help their need? It shifted a little bit when we were dealing mostly with those types of things. When we went into the shutdown it was interesting — our phones actually got a little lighter because people weren’t out and about and having conflict with each other. But of course, we’re back and busy.
Do people call for a vaccine?
Oh yeah. They call us for everything. Part of our job is you need to be really patient with people. They don’t know what they don’t know. So even if it’s the fifth call for the same type of things, let me get you the number. Let me get you where you need to go. I had a gal — she received a call that they were positive for COVID-19. She’s on her way to drop her kid off to day care. She’s like, “I can’t drop her off.” She needed a rapid COVID-19 test. She called the health department — she was turned away. Who does she call? She called us. She was stuck in the middle. A lot of the time, that is our job, help people who are stuck in the middle. We’re prepared for that. Part of the job of being a call-taker is being creative. Everything and anything can happen.
How do you navigate emotional calls?
We take emotional callers every day. I’m human — I’m a mom. Anytime you get a critical pediatric call, for me, it hits home. The difference is we can’t get emotional and lose self-control over the phone. We have to stay cool and walk people through the worst moment of their life. It may be very tragic, but my job is to make sure they know everything they’re doing is correct. People don’t call 911 because things are going good. People call us because it’s the worst event of their life, and there’s a whole ranging scale of that. My job is to give them instructions — be their cheerleader, let them know they’re doing a good job and stay with them until EMS can take over. Those people are amazing. I’ve talked to people who I will never forget. They’ve impacted my life.
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What are some of the challenges faced by 911 dispatchers?
Getting people to do this job is not easy. It’s hard. These people work hard. They work 12-, 14-hour rotating shifts, and it’s a difficult job. You’re constantly having to monitor multiple units. Sometimes Vancouver Police Department — a dispatcher will have 70 units on their screen. So 70 units to one dispatcher. That’s unheard of. It’s a hard job, it’s a lot to learn, it’s stressful. You have to have really good communication skills. You have be creative and be able to multitask and pay attention to detail. You also have to have that compassion piece too. You are talking to people who, this is the worst event of their life. Whether it’s somebody that was just shot, stabbed, went into cardiac arrest, their baby’s not breathing. Do you really want to be responsible for the other line of that phone? We have a lot of people who apply — but some people just don’t make it. Our training is 12-18 months. Some people will just say, “I don’t want to do this. It’s too heavy.”
What happens if someone doesn’t have a cellphone plan?
It’s a federal law that they can still call 911. If it’s got a charged battery, they can still call 911. If you don’t have cellphone service, that’s a different beast. If there’s no cell service — you have no service. You’re not going to get through. We do have that happen. Where we are in Clark County, we have mountainous areas. I live north of Battle Ground, there’s a certain area we go through there isn’t service.
What are some of your hopes for the future?
I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing for a little while longer. You know, this job has definitely kept me grounded, for sure. I’m going to get emotional thinking about it. It keeps me grounded. I see the bravery and courage in my co-workers. I see the compassion and the bravery of officers every day. How they can be so amazingly compassionate and do their jobs? It’s amazing to hear it. We don’t see a lot of it, but it’s amazing to hear those interactions.