County’s dispatchers an essential part of public safety

Published 9:00 pm Friday, July 28, 2023

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While police officers and deputies are likely the most visible parts of the Albert Lea and Freeborn County law enforcement team, their work would not be possible without the roles of other individuals who work behind the scenes coordinating their response and talking on the front lines with the public.

That group of 10 dispatchers on the telecommunications team includes Penny Gangruth, Jody Olson, Tasha Grove, Rachel Guenther, Lisa Rippentrop, Karina Kunze, Sara Schmitt, Amanda Vaith, Bobbie Attig and Amber Nuehring.

Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Tim Bennett said the telecommunicators are an essential part of the public safety sector and receive and evaluate several different calls — both emergency and non-emergency — each shift. They have to determine the severity of each call and which agencies to dispatch.

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“With some calls, the telecommunicators may only have seconds to make that determination and get the information out to responding units,” Bennett said. “During the higher severity calls, the telecommunicators have to be calm and attempt to calm the caller down so they can get more information. While doing this, the telecommunicators are relaying all the information to the responding agencies.”

He said each piece of information they receive they give to law enforcement to help in their response — not only for their investigations but also for their safety.

“We appreciate that hard work that the telecommunicators do every day,” he said.

Working Wednesday in the dispatcher center was Guenther, Grove and Olson.

Guenther, who has worked for three years as a dispatcher, said she used to work with Americorps in the schools and wanted to continue in public service in a different way.

She received her certificate do be a dispatcher from Riverland Community College.

“I like being able to help the community,” she said.

The dispatchers have to have the ability to multi-task as they look at multiple screens at a time — a radio screen, a phone screen, screens for different maps and a screen where they enter in all of their calls. They even have a foot tool to use to dispatch people if needed.

The women also have to have good listening skills and the capability of working in stressful situations.

Guenther said typically there are two to three dispatchers working at a time, and they each work 10-hour shifts.

They work as a team as calls come in and can often gauge just from the tone of voice of their partners how serious a call is going to be.
Grove, who has been working in the role for 6 1/2 years, said she had a friend working in dispatch who thought she would be a good fit.

“I like getting the help out to those who need it,” she said.

Olson started working as a dispatcher 7 1/2 years ago and previously worked as an EMT through Mayo Clinic Health System.

She said she wasn’t really looking for a job but the job found her.

She also works as one of the medical examiners for Freeborn County.

Two of the county’s dispatchers are also crisis negotiators.