By Becky Holland, firstname.lastname@example.org
HARRISON COUNTY – They are the voices that you hear during the worst moments of your life. You may never see their faces. You may not know their names. But they know you, and they are working in your favor every day – sometimes for 12 to 16 hours a day.
Who are these people? They are called communication officers, but most folks just know them as 911 dispatchers. They are the ones who sit behind a console from sun-up to sun down, and then some,, monitoring the weather, the crime, the roads, the traffic and disseminating information to law enforcement officers, fire fighters and other emergency personnel. Last week, as Harrison County was bombarded with thunderstorms and severe weather, emergency dispatchers were the peace that kept all together.
Most of them won’t take the praise, like Renee Nelson and Teri Pilot, both longtime communications’ officers for the Harrison County Sheriff’s Office.
Renee Nelson, 43, is a Hallsville native, and she got her education in the Hallsville school system before going through the Police Academy. Renee is not only a dispatcher, but she holds her peace officer certification, is a volunteer firefighter in Waskom, and an emergency care attendant. She also serves as the treasurer for the Harrison County Firefighters’ Association.
For Renee, the venture into law enforcement/emergency management career was only natural. “My dad was a police officer, and my brother is in law enforcement too,” Renee said, “and me, well, I love it.” Renee continued, saying that working the emergency radio is just right for her. “It is fast-paced, and I guess you could say, I am an adrenaline junkie,” she explained.
HCSO Lt. Jay Webb said of Renee, “Renee leads by example. She knows the correct questions to ask, hot to get assistance where needed and all of our communication officers are very aware of the procedures.”
Webb continued, “She has been with us 19 years, and she is very calm and collected when she is on the radio.” He said the same of Teri.
Renee calls the deputies and jailers, well, everyone with the HCSO and the emergency personnel with the fire departments, family. Which is a big part of the reason that she takes pride and extra care in how she performs her job.
A cancer survivor, Renee said, “You have to put your emotions down, and you can’t fall apart, you have got to hold it together. I just say a prayer when I walk in the door and before I take my seat, and when I leave.”
When asked what a typical day is like in the life of a communications officer, Renee laughed. “Every day is different … there is no typical day.”
“People really don’t know what we do up here,” Renee said, “and how much stress that we do go through. We have to stay calm. We are the ones that take the calls and relay the information to the deputies, so we have to be calm.”
Teri Pilot, 45, agreed with Renee. “We care about what is going on. We have families and we try to treat everyone with respect. We have to be accurate with what we do,” Teri said.
A single mom and a grandma, Teri has been at HCSO as a communications’ officer for 15 years. “I kind of fell into it. I had always wanted to go into the military, and didn’t, so this is kind of like my happy medium,” Teri said.
Teri confirmed what Renee said about the people they work with were like family. “The guys are my brothers,” Teri said referring to the patrol deputies and others with the department.
When asked if she would give advice to anyone who was thinking about becoming a dispatcher, Teri said, “Make sure you have a hobby so you have something you can decompress with.”
Teri likes to sew and garden. “That is my time.”
Next time you thank a police officer or a deputy or decide to wear blue to support an officer or go take the firefighter a cake, I encourage you to think about the dispatchers who got the officers, the deputies, the firefighters and EMS to you.
They truly are unsung heroes.