Heather Perkins: ‘It’s Been One of the Best Decisions of My Life’
Before deciding to become an emergency dispatcher in July 2000, Heather Perkins, 32, from Santa Quin, Utah, was the manager of a movie theater. After she was transferred to manage a dilapidated mini-theater, she decided to leave and pursue a career in emergency communications even though she knew virtually nothing about the field. She took all the tests and went through the interview process and discovered that she was genuinely interested in the work.
“Dispatching is something that becomes very addictive,” Perkins says.
Married for 12 years with a 7 ½ year-old son, she has two sisters and one brother. Perkins lives eight blocks from her parents, and her husband attends nursing school. She attended the University of Utah and had wanted to be a high school drama teacher. before joining the Provo Police and Fire Department Dispatch Unit in 2000. She has served as a shift supervisor since 2005.
“I adapted pretty easily to it. It seemed to come naturally to me,” she says, but it was an adjustment to manage the schedule when she had to report to work at 5:00 a.m. She found the program in Utah “really wonderful.”
Being helpful to people is what Perkins loves most about her job. “I like to feel instrumental in helping them through the worst moments in their lives. I honestly can’t think of a lot that I don’t like about it,” she says.
“We get a lot of calls from disconnected cell phones. The majority of them tend to be pocket calls, [but] an occasional one turns out to be an emergency,” Perkins says.
“I got to deliver a baby a couple years ago. It’s not something we have much of an opportunity to do. Our response time is fast,” she says. The pregnant woman was at home at the time, and Perkins describes the call as “amazing.”
Perkins says her most emotionally draining call was her first one involving CPR. A boy had drowned in a bathtub. “I still remember pieces of the conversation,” she says. In recalling the mother’s frantic appeal for help, Perkins says, “I still remember hearing the sorrow in her voice.” Her honed skills as a dispatcher aided her not to focus on the emotional aspects of the call but, instead, to concentrate on the appropriate steps to immediately provide help. This served as a coping mechanism for Perkins to deal with the call for service. “I did everything as quickly as possible. A lot of it is so really important—you need to find a way to leave it all behind and find a way to walk out the door and leave it there,” she says.
On 9/11/2001, Perkins had been employed a year as a dispatcher at the center. Sept. 11 had previouslyu been the date on which telecommunicators had a yearly celebration. The day of the terrorist attacks the center was decorated with a Hawaiian luau theme. Perkins was home when the planes were crashed into the towers in New York. She went to work at 11:00 a.m. to discover everyone watching television in the middle of the party environment. “Everyone was stunned,” she recalls.
Perkins tries to always maintain a positive attitude to reduce stress and look on the bright side of things in order not to burn out. “Focusing on the good makes it easier to do hard things. The people that focus on the negative and complain have the hardest time on this job,” she says. As a supervisor, Perkins tries to make the work environment enjoyable.
Perkins spends a lot of time with her family and engages in hobbies that include reading. Her reading material is varied and is about things that don’t remind her of life. “What I want is a complete escape,” she says. Family time is her biggest escape. She says that five minutes spent with her son cheers her instantly.
Nominated for the 2010 APCO Supervisor of the Year Award, Perkins is of the opinion she does the same job that everyone else does. She believes her job is one of the most rewarding anyone can do, and she treats it as a career and not a job.
“What you’re doing every single day makes a difference in peoples’ lives. I consider myself lucky. I’ve been blessed to work with amazing people that have taught me a lot. It’s so much more than I ever expected. Absolutely, without a doubt, it’s been one of the best decisions of my life,” says Perkins. And, for those she comes in contact with, Perkins decision has had a positive impact on their lives as well.
About the Author
Karen L. Bune serves as an adjunct professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia and Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia, where she teaches victimology. Bune is a consultant for the Training and Technical Assistance Center for the Office for Victims of Crime and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U. S. Department of Justice. She is a nationally recognized speaker and trainer on victim issues. Bune is Board Certified in Traumatic Stress and Domestic Violence, and she is a Fellow of The Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress and the National Center for Crisis Management. She is a 2009 inductee in the Wakefield High School (Arlington, Va.) Hall of Fame. She received the “Chief’s Award 2009” from the Prince George’s County Maryland Police Chief. She received a 2011 Recognition of Service Certificate from Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker. She received a 2011 Official Citation from The Maryland General Assembly for her exemplary public service to domestic violence victim and cause of justice in MD. She received the 2011 American University Alumni Recognition Award. Bune appears in the 2012 editions of Marquis’ “Who’s Who in the World, and Marquis’ Who’s Who of American Women.