Editor’s note: Each Wednesday, West Hawaii Today is publishing a story about individuals, groups or organizations that have helped make life better for others in our community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This week is National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week — also known as National Dispatchers Week — a time to recognize and thank telecommunications personnel in the public safety communications field.
In a ceremony Monday at the Hilo police station, which was attended by Hawaii Police Department Chief Paul K. Ferreira and command staff, Mayor Mitch Roth presented a proclamation to the department recognizing dispatchers for their hard work.
“It’s not an easy job,” said Ferreira. “Our dispatchers are very committed to public safety and are able to calmly work in a fast-paced high-stress environment, providing emergency response to our residents while dispatching first responders to provide assistance.”
On any given day, dispatchers receive an average of 515 calls to 911, averaging 15,694 calls a month to 911 last year. In 2020, Hawaii Police Department dispatchers handled 188,329 calls to 911.
Lt. Robert Fujitake of the Hawaii Police Department’s Communications Section described the county’s police, fire and medical dispatchers who take the emergency 911 calls as “the first first responders.”
“Many of the calls come in where it’s just the worst day of someone’s life, or for their friend or their family member that they’re calling for. So they’re not calling with good news,” Fujitake said. “And when the dispatchers take these calls, they have no idea what’s coming in with the 911 call. Yet, they’re prepared. They’re prepared for any situation. They’re making split-second decisions that are helping our community.”
Golden Lawrence was honored with the Hawaii Police Department’s first Dispatcher of the Year award for 2020. Lawrence, a 34-year-old married father of three, is an Oahu native who has a pre-law degree from Eastern Washington University. A dispatcher for four years, he was hired after responding to a newspaper ad — in his case, shortly after moving to the Big Island.
Asked what makes a good dispatcher, he replied, “Being a good listener.”
“You’re listening to callers to see what they need and providing a service to them. Being a good listener really helps,” Lawrence said. “I just try to get all the information I can on what’s going on — really, you’re getting just one side of the story, but trying to stay neutral to get all the info you can — weapons, intoxication, who’s involved, everything we can get to give to the officers, so they have the best information going in to that situation.”
Lawrence said he loves his jobs, although it does involve rotating shift work.
“I would not get up at 2 in the morning, or at 6:45 or at 11:45 to take on whatever it is the day throws at us,” Lawrence said, if he didn’t love the work. “It’s an emotional roller coaster.”
“I need that strong support from my family that I get,” he added. “And it’s hard not getting to see your kids on a regular basis. You’re seeing them a couple of hours in the morning or at night before you come into work, expecting that you’re going to work eight hours, but sometimes working 12 hours. So it’s hard to make plans with your family when you do this kind of shift work.
“But on the flip side, you’re helping people. I get a lot of satisfaction knowing that I was a part of helping somebody’s day get better by sending them help.”
Fujitake described dispatchers as “the unsung heroes.”
“They’re not out there in the public’s eye. They’re not seen,” he concluded. “They may have taken over 100 calls in a shift. And, a lot of times, they don’t know the outcome of many of these calls.
“They don’t get the closure.”
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.
Know a Hometown Hero that should be highlighted next Wednesday? It can be anybody, from a youngster doing good for the community, to a professional helping with the COVID-19 pandemic, or even a kupuna! Please send your nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject: Hometown Heroes Nomination. Please include the hero’s name, contact information and what makes them a hero.