INDIANAPOLIS — First responders are needed to fill a critical role in public safety in the Circle City.
The Indianapolis Fire Communications Center is looking to hire telecommunicators to answer 9-1-1 calls and dispatch crews.
These essential workers are a lifeline to people in some of their scariest moments, and the telecomminicators also serve as support for other first responders on the scene.
WRTV stopped by the IFD Communications Center to speak with Penitra Graves who has been in this position for more than 10 years.
"There is no such thing as a normal day," Graves said. "It's not always this quiet, but at the moment it is quiet."
Graves answers 9-1-1 calls and works to locate the caller and dispatch emergency crews.
Calls come into the center after first going to the Marion County Sheriff, according to law.
If the emergency is fire or EMS related, it is then transferred to IFD.
"It takes a lot of patience and compassion, and multitasking," Graves said.
She reflects on some of the calls that stick out in her mind.
"I've had a person in a grain silo, I've had a major incident when someone had to be life-lined from the scene of a vehicle accident and also a gas explosion," Graves said.
The IFD Communications Center has 34 positions when they are at full capacity, but right now they are short a few positions and need to hire to keep up with the operation that goes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year.
In the pandemic, they utilize their pods to keep workers separated and they also installed some clear plastic between work spaces. They have had minimal COVID-19 cases in their workplace this past year.
Operations manager Sheryl Stephenson, who has worked in the call center for 17 years, said it is like home for her.
"My mom suggested it to me," Stephenson said. "She was one of the first female and civilian dispatchers hired by IFD many years ago."
Working for IFD was in her blood, as her father was a firefighter as well.
"I realized on day one that I found home," Stephenson said. "That this is something that I feel good about what I do."
Stephenson says to work in this position you need a high school degree but they will train employees on the rest of the specific tasks at the center.
She said listening skills and the ability to multitask are important parts of this position and even though you may not know the final outcome of each situation, Stephenson says it is a rewarding job where you know you make a difference each day.
She recalled one of her most memorable calls was a teenage girl having an asthma attack and having just moved did not know her address. Stephenson stayed on the line and worked to get emergency crews to her home and the girl stopped breathing over the phone. She said eventually EMTs got to the scene and she heard on the ambulance ride that the girl was awake and breathing.
She said employees can make a difference for citizens in their time of need by simply using their voice.
"One of the most important qualities that we look for is empathy," Stephenson said. "Obviously, you are dealing with people at their worst and they are not always going to be very kind to you when they call in. It's important to be able to understand kind of their position, where they are coming from, and show them through your voice through your tone, ya know, that they have reached somebody who cares."
"Being able to communicate with people when they are having the worst day of their life," Graves said. "A lot of times people are very frantic, and upset and you have to be able to separate yourself from a situation and assist them."
Stephenson told WRTV that the telecommunicator positions are unionized and provide great job security and benefits. She said it is a first responder position, so workers may have to work holidays and overnight hours.
If you are interested in applying or learning more about these available positions, you can visit the city's careers page on GovernmentJobs.com and search "911 telecommunicator." They are conducting in-person interviews in a safe manner due to COVID-19, but can also do them virtually.