By Nicole Ascher
One calm night, while working in the Kansas Highway Patrol dispatch center, we received a call from OnStar advising of a crash that just occurred involving a semi and a van. A young mother who was not wearing her seat belt was distracted by talking on her cell phone.
She went left of center, left the roadway, went across the median and struck a semi. It took troopers 20 minutes to arrive and they advised of one confirmed fatality. It took another 20 minutes for the troopers to give a tag and ask for dispatch to locate a driver’s license photo for identification purposes.
Just as we pulled up the photo, the victim’s mother called in and advised that her daughter’s husband called her, and told her he was on the phone with the victim when she screamed and the cell phone disconnected. Once the family heard about the accident on the interstate, the victim’s mother and young child insisted on responding to the scene, to make sure her daughter was okay. The dispatcher told the mother to take the child home and she would have a trooper respond to her house to let her know what happened. Troopers were busy working the scene so dispatch attempted to get a chaplain to go to the mother’s residence.
The mother called the Kansas Highway Patrol dispatch center multiple times and the husband called the local dispatch multiple times. An hour later, troopers were able to identify the victim from the driver’s license photo and responded with the chaplain to notify her mother and husband. We do our very best to calm our callers and let them know that help is on the way. The dispatcher thought of her mom and wanted to tell her over the phone.
Death is one of the hardest things to deal with and families deserve to be treated with respect, passion, and professional comfort. Our hope is to give a victim’s family the gift of having someone to hold on to, or to make a phone call for someone who can come to the home and provide emotional support. During times like this, dispatchers feel helpless. Without visual information from the scene, we are left to our own imagination in an attempt to figure out what happened. Our main focus is helping people. We do this as a team and help our fellow dispatchers when they are busy. An incident like this will stick with the dispatchers for several days.
Dispatchers experience trauma indirectly and with a high level of distress during and following an incident like this. One of the hardest things about being a dispatcher is the lack of closure and not knowing what happens after calls are dispatched. At times this is a thankless job, but at the end of the day…you know you did your best and it is worth it.
Nicole Ascher is a Communication Specialist Supervisor with the Kansas Highway Patrol