NEW RIVER VALLEY, Va. – You won’t see people like Dan Hobbes at the scene of an emergency, but he’s the first to answer the call for help. He’s a dispatcher at the City of Roanoke E-911 Center.
After leaving the U.S. Navy 3.5 years ago, he was still called to serve.
“We’re always trying to help,” said Hobbes.
On Monday, Hobbes was awarded Communications Officer of the Year.
“It’s nice with a job that we don’t get a whole lot of recognition all the time to be recognized and know that my efforts are worth it,” said Hobbes.
This week marks National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, which celebrates the lifesaving work that dispatchers do day in and day out.
“The job that they do is a very important and very critical link to making sure that our citizens stay safe,” said Sonya Roman, the manager of the center.
Roman said the pandemic’s added challenges and stressors.
While some calls, like traffic accidents, dropped during lockdowns, others grew, including COVID-related calls from people with flu-like symptoms. The biggest challenge has been ensuring the health of the dispatchers and staffing because someone has to pick up the phone.
“We have to answer those phone calls, right? We need someone here to answer those calls,” said Roman.
The NRV 911 Authority has dealt with similar problems.
Many 911 centers only have six to eight operators on the floor during a shift and some people had to work overtime or swap shifts if others were quarantined.
“Our staff did a great job pulling together and helping cover each others’ shifts,” said Jason Milburn, the executive director of the NRV 911 Authority. ”I was really proud of how the staff came together in the last year to help keep everything cover.”
The Roanoke City dispatch center’s been closed to the public since the pandemic started and they follow all the health protocols like mask-wearing and social distancing.
“They have just been a trooper. And that’s why we want to recognize them this week, just to say ‘Thank you.’ You still come to work every day. You know, you still have been doing your job, and we want to say ‘Thank you for the work you do,” said Roman. “Not just this week but every single day.”
Hobbes is proud to be one of the heroes in the headsets.
“Every 911 call is somebody’s worst moment of their life. So I know if I can help people, then I want to,” said Hobbes.
Roanoke City’s E-911 center hired 12 people since the start of the pandemic.
They’re holding another dispatcher training course in July.
Milburn said the best way to say “thank you” is by being patient and kind if you ever need to call 911.