When a person calls 911 — whether it be for a medical emergency, a fire or in the presence of a crime — he or she can rest assured that there is always someone on the other end of the line, ready to help.
There are many occasions where the dispatcher will be speaking with a person who is having one of the worst days of their life. “You have to talk to them; calm them down,” Kiara Suarez said, who works at the Lee County Sheriff’s Office communications center.
Lee County Sheriff’s Office is hiring dispatchers, or communications operators, for a full-time position starting at nearly $27,000 a year. The position requires stamina as the employee will usually work in 12-hour shifts.
Those interested must take a 911 Pre-Employment CritiCall Test, which determines an applicant’s strengths and weaknesses in decision making, data entry, call summarizations, memory recall, prioritization, map reading, spelling and sentence clarity, according to job requirements.
The position can be overwhelming at first, but dispatchers usually catch on quickly. Kiara knows what to say when she gets a call from someone in a crisis.
“You have to say, ‘listen to me,'” Kiara said. “‘Calm down. Take a deep breath. And tell me exactly what’s happening.'”
She didn’t think she’d end up as a dispatcher at the Lee County Sheriff’s Office communications center.
“I didn’t know what I was gonna do with my life. My mom called me and she’s like ‘here the Sheriff’s Office is hiring and you need to apply,'” she said.
She got the job five years ago and now she takes up to 100 emergency calls a day.
Her boss, Karen Ciofani, has been taking emergency calls for 24 years, and knows what it takes to work the job.
“We’re looking for caring and compassionate people,” Karen said, with a mostly barren office in the background. “This is a fast-paced environment. He or she should be able to deal with people in a variety of emotional states and remain calm and professional.”
SWFL agriculture destroyed by hurricane Irma tested the resolve of operators. Panicked residents were constantly calling for assistance. Working in the office during natural disasters, like hurricane Irma, are among the most testing obligations of the job.
For Kiara, it’s a rewarding career.
“To know that you’ve made a difference in someone’s life when they don’t have anyone else there,” Suarez said.