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Local heroes on the front lines of emergencies

Posted at 10:17 PM, May 10, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-10 23:17:47-04

They are the faceless, nameless voices that guide you through life's traumatic moments.

Most of the time, they never hear any thanks for what they do.

They consider themselves part of a small and resilient group who share a computer screen, a headset, and nerves of steel.

Chances are, the day you deal with them will be among the worst of your life.

They've never been in a car accident, they've never had their home broken into.

Donna Sumrall's been a 9-1-1 operator for 13-and-a-half years.

It's raw emotion, of what this person is going through, many, many times.

Once they plug in their headsets to begin an 8-hour shift, none of them ever know who will be on the other end of the line.

You will hear the gunshots going off, you will hear the person who is attempting suicide, I've jumped, I've got a noose around my neck, I'm dangling but I've decided I wanted to live.  That dwells deeply within people.

It's a definite possibility that anyone of these people in here may be the last person that someone talks to.

Kimberly Faxon's been here for 22 years.

That's a very heavy burden to carry.

First as an operator, now as a supervisor.

And it absolutely is traumatizing to listen to the anguish in these people's voices.

There are just 63 of them in this small fraternity, beneath the barrel-vaulted ceiling at any one time, around the clock, every day. That includes the fire dispatchers who sit in the middle of the room.

EMSA dispatchers are on the other side of the hall.

There are a couple who handle calls for the Tulsa County sheriff, but it's the handful like Donna who takes every incoming call, assess what's happening, and decide how to help.

We will sympathize with the caller but we're also able to take control and we'll guide you through that awful time in your life.

Donna says she does that with patience, understanding, and compassion.

Traits that have expanded since she's been here.

And she's calm.

A 9-1-1 operator can't panic.

Call it professional detachment.

The deep breaths often come at the end of the shift. 

It's OK to be emotional, it's OK to have to process this, it's not that there's anything wrong with you. You're human.

Everyone who's hired has to pass psychological testing.
A few leave after their first call and never come back.

Jesus Villarreal is a newbie.

Right now he handles calls from officers in the field looking for information.

But eventually, he'll take the emergency calls.

In his other job, he's a double bass player in the Tulsa Symphony.
And a dad to young kids. That softer side of him helps.

So just staying calm during the call and letting it roll off your back after it happens hoping there's a good outcome to whatever it is they're going through that particular day.

And that's the thing about being a 9-1-1 operator.
Most of the time, they don't know what happened to the anguished voice on the other end of the line.

So they comfort each other. 

Or they find that at home.

And sometimes all you can do is make a file in your brain to put things that don't make sense, and hope it doesn't affect you.

And then they come back and do it again.
Never knowing who'll be calling.

There are some tragic ones that stick to mind. You just try to bury those deeper down inside, but the ones with the good outcomes they're what keeps you going.

Because what qualifies as a good day at the 9-1-1 Center is pretty simple.

Nobody died.

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