The Calm Within The Storm Of 9-1-1 Calls
Within Allegan County Central Dispatch sits one of several seasoned 9-1-1 operators. Her 20 years of experience have contributed to the safety of the public as well as her co-workers in public safety. During down time, she jokes with her co-workers in the room. Having a contagious laugh, the others can’t help but join in. The phones rings, the room goes silent.
“9-1-1 where’s your emergency?”
This is how Tammy Gane answers a 9-1-1 call. She’s calm and professional with a helping of patience. She questions the caller asking for an address, name, phone number, and the situation. The call involves a car that was broken into over night. Something easy when it comes to taking a 9-1-1 call but it’s not always this easy. Tammy has dealt with far worse during the course of her career.
Gane, the oldest of three, grew up in western Michigan. The daughter of a homemaker and father, who was a truck driver, was taught a strong work ethic. This quality would follow her throughout her life and carry on in the lives of her two daughters. She began her career through friends and a chance meeting at an FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) corn roast. This meeting led to a night where she caught the public safety bug.
“I had a lot of friends that were in law enforcement and I played softball. Some of my girlfriends on the team were also married to state troopers so that’s how I got into the circle. One year I was at the corn roast with one of my girlfriends and I met Rachel’s dad there.” Rachel, being her eldest daughter, “we ended up going to a bar and his buddies left him. He wanted me to give him a ride home but I didn’t really know him so I made him stay at a hotel.”
She smiles and laughs as she reflects on this memory. “The next day he asked for a ride again and I didn’t even know him so I bought him a bus ticket and put him on the bus.” Laughter ensues as she continues her story. “We started dating and when we decided to get married I moved to Kalamazoo.” Gane explains that around the summer of ’85 her husband at that time had asked her if she wanted to ride with him during his night shift. It was the night before Thanksgiving. Gane had decided to accompany her husband that night. She started out the shift in dispatch where she describes the scene as “just crazy busy.” She later rode with her husband and witnessed a fight with a disorderly subject and radio traffic that left her pumped.
That night in dispatch was only the beginning. She would later land a job with Kalamazoo’s Juvenile Court. She dealt with child abuse neglect cases, delinquent adoption cases, and worked the switchboard. Gane also worked for a local attorney but moved to St. Joseph some time later. Around this time, she gave birth to her daughter Rachel and had gone from having a clerk’s job in the jail of Berrien County to working in dispatch. Her training back then in dispatch was that of pure observation and common sense. Her very first 9-1-1 call was someone who wanted to commit suicide.
“One night it got really busy and the 9-1-1 line was ringing and no one was available and the supervisor says, ‘answer it’.” Gane sits up as she gets into her story. “It was a guy saying, ‘I’m going to kill myself’ and I was thinking to transfer him to the suicide hotline.” The call was transferred while the caller continued to sob. When the suicide hotline picked up it was only an automated system. She disconnected from the hotline and continued to speak to the caller.
“I start talking to him and his wife had left him. Every Thursday night, I’ll never forget this…He goes and gets groceries and when he came home there was a note from his wife that she was leaving him and she left him a tape, a cassette tape, like a letter on a tape. He put the tape in, heard part of it and the machine ate it.” She continued to speak to him but the caller kept putting the phone down. “I kept thinking I was going to hear a gun shot,” Gane explains. Luckily she did not hear a gun shot. Instead she was able to keep her cool and keep the caller talking long enough for the officers to get there.
She tells the story of her first 9-1-1 call as if it were yesterday. She’s spoken to many suicidal callers since then but recently she answered a call that made national news. On the morning of Feb. 28th 2012, Gane took a call from a suicidal subject who led police on a high-speed car chase. She could hear a man screaming hysterically with police sirens in the background. Gane used her experience, calm demeanor, and patience to persuade the caller to not only slow down but also pull over. “First I asked, how fast are you going? And then lets take it down to 50 and let me know when you get to 30 and he just started listening,” Gane explains. The call can be heard in its entirety here but if you do a simple Google search you can find reports from all over on how well Gane did during this call.
Gane continues to set the bar high for 9-1-1 dispatchers. She describes her job as one where, “nothing is easy, it’s constant problem solving.” There is no real break within the walls of dispatch and Gane attributes stress relief by having good co-workers. They, and her two daughters admire her. “My mom is the most hard working woman I know. She has taught me the work ethic that I have today, and I truly thank her for that.” In the end, Gane looks back at her career and how to stay ahead of the rest.
“You have to be able to put up with everything. Deal with the bad and the good and hopefully the good outweighs the bad.”
(Audio Source: 911dispatch.com)