Every year, APCO presents awards to public safety communications personnel in seven categories who demonstrate the highest levels of personal and professional conduct and performance in the line of duty. This year’s winners are being honored during the 78th Annual APCO International Conference & Expo in Minneapolis. The are:
Telecommunicator of the Year
Donna Kelly is a primary call receiver at Kitsap County (Wash.) CENCOM. In the entry form nominating Donna for the award, one of her colleagues said, “We, as a team, are better calltakers, dispatchers and teammates because Donna is here working with us and pushing us to exceed our own individual standards of helping others. Once you work with her, you wish you could develop your skills and knowledge, and be an example of leadership and consistency like her.”
Donna juggles many roles at CENCOM in addition to her job as primary call receiver. She serves as the center’s terminal agency coordinator (TAC), facilitator for the call-receiving academies, chair to the testing group, communications training officer and criteria-based dispatch instructor for EMS call training.
According to the nomination form, “On any random day the floor personnel will decide to discuss who the Pro-Bowl type members of our dispatch center are. It’s almost like fantasy football picks with discussions of why these operators should be on the list for ‘the perfect team.’ The first person mentioned is typically Donna. She is always the first to pick up ringing 9-1-1 lines and challenges others to be just as quick. One of the phrases commonly heard when describing Donna as a teammate is, ‘She gets to it before I even have to ask, and I know when she is working it will get handled quickly and correctly.’
“It is second nature for Donna to think of the whole picture and consider every aspect of someone else’s job, always thinking of others first. … When Donna is working, you just know that no matter what type of calls the day will bring, the day is going to be funny and go as well as it can because she is handling our calls. She is definitely not an average employee; she is the gold star student in class that shines above the rest. Donna is always looking for the bigger and better way to deliver great service to our citizens here in Kitsap County. She shines above the rest due to her dependability, her eagerness to succeed, her excitement about catching co-workers or trainees doing the job correctly, her ability to flex to different learning styles and training styles, the expression on her face when she realizes she saved a life and yet doesn’t need to hear ‘Great Job Donna!’ I have been blessed to work with Donna on my shift.”
Radio Frequency Technologist of the Year
Craig Haddock’s position at the Texas Department of Public Safety is supervisor, Tower Site Unit. Craig is responsible for the entire DPS tower infrastructure, consisting of more than 450 assets at approximately 119 sites across Texas. He is the project manager for all tower installations and removals. Craig installs and/or oversees the installation of radio site ground antenna systems, security systems, emergency power generators, fuel systems, and site alarm status reporting equipment. He maintains records of all sites and the equipment housed at each one. Craig supervises two Radio Tower Technicians and is responsible for training and monitoring each technician’s progress.
“Texans may never know the impact of Craig’s efforts,” wrote Craig’s colleague on the nomination form, “but they will definitely reap the benefit. From El Paso to Texarkana and Amarillo to Brownsville and all points in between, Craig has been there responding when and where there is a need. …
“He is a vital member of the communications emergency operations team (CEOT) and serves as lead technician on the department’s ranger recon missions along the Texas/Mexico border. Whether it is planning for a mission or in his day-to-day operations, Craig is responsible for infrastructure additions, site expansions and improvements to ensure coverage and systems reliability. He serves as a liaison between the department and other state agencies and is often called upon to assist local and county agencies with repairs or maintenance in times of crisis.
“He is the driving force, the hub that keeps the wheel, his team, moving. When praised for his work accomplishments Craig is quick to acknowledge all the others who helped the project succeed, always directing the attention back to the team. Working with multiple types of radio systems requires that Craig be well versed in all types of technologies. Craig has developed great working relationships throughout the entire 262,400 square miles of Texas. He uses skill, patience, collaboration and common sense when working with others to get the job done.
“No matter the assignment or location, Craig is up for the challenge. One day he may be hanging an antenna on a tower on a West Texas mountaintop and the next day trying to blend in while building a radio infrastructure along the Texas border for a special, covert operation. Familiarity of the many remote tower sites is a must.
“His work ethic and commitment to excellence have led to the success of the department’s radio projects.”
Information Technologist of the Year
Corey Nelson is IT manager for Emergency Communications of Southern Oregon. According to the nomination form, “Corey is a one-man department, serving 28 public safety agencies, which can be a very demanding position. Corey oversees the MSAG/Geofile department (also a one-man department) and is always coming up with more ways to make the dispatchers’ jobs easier, as well as the user agencies we serve. Corey has written numerous reporting programs enabling users to pull a variety of reports from their offices, and maintains over 200 mobile data computers for our user agencies. Whenever a problem is found, Corey is quick to offer suggestions or create programs to fix the problem or simply make the agency more efficient.
His colleagues say, “[Corey] is very thorough and finds the most cost effective way to meet the desired goal. He is very professional and knowledgeable. He is always willing to assist us, even when it is on very short notice. And even in the most trying situations, he remains pleasant at all times!”
“I always appreciate Corey’s attitude toward those of us who will never know as much about computers and computer systems as he does. He never talks down to you when you ask a question or have a problem. He is always more than willing to help and has an easiness about him that is reassuring. Professional in every way.”
No task is too big or too small for Corey, say his colleagues. “Anytime someone asks ‘Can you … ?’ the answer is ‘Yes.’ He works quickly, efficiently and affordably, always keeping the mindset we are a government agency and need to be fiscally responsible to our taxpayers.
“Corey started out as a ‘self taught’ technology expert and has worked harder than anyone I know in IT to prove himself invaluable. During our move in 2009 to our brand new facility built to enable our consolidation with a neighboring PSAP, Corey not only helped design the structure, but spent more nights in the new building than at home. Corey, along with help from MSAG/Geofile Coordinator Chad Pliler, pulled miles of cabling on their own, creating a state-of-the-art, beautifully organized facility.
“In addition to his day-to-day responsibilities within the center, Corey provides reports and IT support to all 28 agencies served by ECSO. He is on call 24/7 and is never grumpy with callers, regardless of the hour, or day of the week. He has been too generous in giving out his phone number to field units, and is consistently called on his days off, and even vacation. Corey is very dedicated to the agency, and to the profession as a whole.
“Corey is an invaluable asset to our agencies. Other managers from around the state of Oregon have called me to confess they are trying to steal Corey and have offered him positions within their own Centers, but Corey has turned them down. In Jackson County, Ore., we know we are fortunate to have him as our IT manager.”
Team of the Year
Representing the Citrus Heights (Calif.) Police Department, Heather Brown, dispatcher I; Amanda Schroeder, dispatcher II; Stephen Rodwell, senior dispatcher, communications training officer, and CAD & RMS software trainer; and Helen Zuniga, supervisor, are the recipients of the Team of the Year Award.
On Friday, Oct. 28, 2011, at 1206 hrs, Brown received a 9-1-1 call from a woman who advised that her adult son, Greg Jr., was on the phone with his father and had taken a bottle of Trazadone. The father was currently on an open line with the son, who had a loaded gun by his side and was attempting suicide by taking a bottle of anti-depression medication. The son was an Army soldier stationed in Germany. Brown performed a quick Internet query on Trazadone and learned that suicidal thoughts are a possible side effect.
The mother was upset and did not know her son’s date of birth or Social Security number. She was able to advise 9-1-1 that Greg Jr. worked in water purification and that 92-Wiskey was his job classification. Brown used CJIS to find Greg Jr.’s SSN so they could search for his location through military records. Brown requested the cell phone number for the father, and had the mother tell him she was going to call him and to answer. When she called the father they were able to patch the dispatcher into the phone call he was having with his son. Brown began speaking with the father at 1227 hrs. The remainder of the phone call was with the father, Greg Sr.
He advised the dispatcher that he had been talking to his son for approximately an hour before his wife called. Greg Sr. advised Brown that his son had fallen into a depression and had been seeing an Army counselor. By the time the dispatcher was connected to Greg Sr., his son had been silent for approximately 15 minutes. All that could be heard in the background was music playing.
The father did not know where his son was stationed. Brown attempted to locate Greg Jr. on Facebook, but could not see his page due to his privacy settings. The father then advised that his son had an ex-girlfriend, Flower, who was the mother of his child. Another dispatcher attempted to call Flower but was unable to reach her.
Greg Sr. then drove to Flower’s apartment. Flower did find Greg Jr.’s phone number and the address on a package that he had sent her. The package had been sent from the U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr in April.
Simultaneous to the above events, Schroeder conducted Internet, local and regional law enforcement database searches; contacted the international operator; reached out to personal contacts; and finally called a local military base, speaking to two very helpful soldiers who were able to help them locate Greg Jr. to get the help he needed.
While keeping an open line with dispatch, a senior airman and a staff sergeant of Travis Air Force base called Ramstein AFB in Germany for assistance while Schroeder contacted Army personnel to assist. A phone call to the Mannheim Military Police in Germany confirmed the location of Greg Jr.’s unit.
While on an open three-way phone call established by operators and Brown, the Grafenwoehr Police located Greg Jr.’s address, forced entry and found him unconscious but alive. He was transported to the Grafenwoehr Hospital. The Travis AFB airman and staff sergeant stayed on the phone for approximately 45 minutes, effectively relaying information between dispatch, Ramstein AFB and the Grafenwoehr Police. At approximately 1410, Brown heard a male voice in the back ground saying “Wake up.”
Brown advised Greg Sr. that his phone number had been given to military authorities, who should be contacting him shortly.
From the initial call at 1206 to 1418 hrs when Brown disconnected with the father, she was on the phone for 2 hours and 12 minutes. It was extremely frustrating to not be able to get help to Greg Jr. sooner.
During this incident, dispatch partner Stephen Rodwell handled all radio channels so that Brown and Schroeder could work to get help to Greg Jr. Dispatch Supervisor Helen Zuniga jumped in and answered the majority of other incoming phone calls.
If not for the hard work and perseverance of everyone in dispatch, this call could have had a much different outcome. This was an extraordinary example of how a team should work together. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack, and they found the needle.
Line Supervisor of the Year
Communications Supervisor Karen “Kisha” Stephenson was hired by Stafford County (Va.) Sheriff’s Office Emergency Communications in 2000. After learning all positions within the center, she began expanding her knowledge through extensive training classes. She became a communications training officer, certified VCIN instructor and a POST/BASIC instructor. In 2009, Kisha was promoted to Communications supervisor. Both before and after her promotion, she has taken every opportunity for any training that will improve her ability to do her job, including training for warrant entry, CPR/AED training, leadership classes, radio operation and critical incident response. She continued her mastery of all things VCIN and NCIC and is the resident department expert on entry into the systems. She has been frequently recognized for her superior service to the community and her co-workers, winning many department awards, including Stafford County Supervisor of the Year award three years in a row.
Kisha’s special abilities go far beyond mere mastery of her assignments and her desire for ongoing training. She is well respected, deeply trusted and is known for her willingness to work right alongside her shift, never asking them to do anything she doesn’t do herself. She has high standards for her shift, including no gossip or negativity; however, she is the first to praise their efforts, proudly rewarding their achievements and standing behind them through good and bad times.
Kisha challenges those around her, through her actions and example, to meet and exceed the tasks at hand. This includes regular day-to-day activities of staff, while mindful of unusual events or particular calls that could impact an individual or her shift. During the August 2011 earthquake, she made sure each staff member was able to get a break during a 90-minute period of high call volume and radio traffic, managing her personnel resources (dispatchers off duty reported to work without being called) and making sure each staff member could check on their families. She did this because she’s cognizant that staff members, when not worried about their families, can focus and meet the needs of the community.
Kisha doesn’t hesitate to jump into the weeds with her shift on a regular basis and be one of the first people answering phones, covering radio positions and handling VCIN/NCIC paperwork. This is best described by a comment from a staff member who said, “She helps wherever she’s needed. She’s the type of supervisor that works with us, not independent of us.”
Another staff member stated, “She is willing to help anyone, anytime, anywhere.”
Director of the Year
Carol Adams is director of emergency communications for the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Communications in Virginia. According to the entry form, it is clear through her interaction with staff that she understands the challenges faced by staff—the shift work, the hours, the stressors—while recognizing the need for breaks, downtime and time away from work to spend with family and friends. She has effectively improved the staffing environment to enable 15-minute breaks and lunch breaks while also reducing overtime and burnout caused from too many hours worked.
“Carol’s management of the county’s radio project provided many opportunities to promote innovation. Through creativity and opportunity, she was able to save more than $200,000 annually in fees and rents (based on originally budgeted figures) for tower sites that supported the system’s radio infrastructure.
“In 2010, she coordinated a regional grant that enhanced the training environment at the local regional training academy from an antiquated system to the provisioning of a cost-effective and up-to-date radio simulator coordinated with calltaking functionality that has provided an efficient means for realistic training and testing of those in the communications training academy. The same grant opportunity provided a training library for the regional academy and its satellite facility.
“Carol continually seeks out opportunity to learn. Although she doesn’t have day to day responsibilities of a front line dispatcher, she continues to see the importance of maintaining the education and certifications she has obtained. And, yes, she will jump in and help when the need arises and does so many times during the year. She promotes learning in a fiscally responsible way whenever possible, promoting training that enhances ‘shift’ operations as well as training to enhance overall center operations. She empowers her staff to seek opportunities to continue learning, promoting ownership of learning to staff members, recognizing staff and their knowledge is a great resource for education. She participates and takes advantage of learning opportunities through conference, symposium and summit offerings.
“Carol is dedicated to the profession and to each individual who sees public safety communications as a career and, in some cases, a calling. She has done this at the local level, the regional level, the state level and nationally. At each turn she has made a positive impact, starting at home in providing a good work environment, surrounding herself with good leaders—individuals whom she can mentor as leaders for tomorrow.
“Her commitment to the profession is exemplary and is demonstrated in everything she does. Her dedication to the individual sitting behind the console, the end user of their radio system, planning efforts to benefit public safety communications, grant funding opportunities and successes, opportunities for leadership mentoring and looking to the future in educating and becoming aware of trends affecting public safety emergency communications are more than a singular full-time job. Carol successfully puts a great deal of effort and time in to each.”
Trainer of the Year
Doreen Wasick is lead fire dispatcher/trainer for Mesa Fire Department in Arizona. According to the entry form, Doreen “defines the term ‘team player.’ She has been directly involved in supporting the MRDC transition to a secondary PSAP. This ongoing process has been full of challenges and emotions. Doreen was instrumental in creating an environment which lowered tension and created harmony as she listened to personnel who may have otherwise objected to the transition. She worked to provide solutions to meet everyone’s needs and, ultimately, support public safety.
“Doreen demonstrates her knowledge of the profession on a daily basis. She is truly a ‘Jack of all trades,’ with mastery of most. On a typical work day, Doreen willingly performs the tasks of all fire dispatch floor positions (dispatch, response, tactical and backup); provides leadership decisions for operational tasks; trains new employees; processes payroll; fills staffing needs; covers the floor supervisory position; answers calls from various agencies and operations personnel, including complaints; meets with multiple committee members; and assists with the decision-making process (up to and including the fire chief); and she always accomplishes these tasks with a smile.
“Doreen has been instructing communications personnel for the majority of her career. Her ability to grasp a concept, put together comprehensive training materials and, most of all, deliver quality education that appeals to all were recognized early on by communications staff. Specifically, Doreen has demonstrated her ability throughout our dispatcher-assisted CPR protocol programmatic changes.
“During her tenure as a lead fire dispatcher/trainer, Doreen has accomplished many goals that have led to the success of our organization. These include but are not limited to: the complete program development and implementation of the latest American Heart Association Guidelines for telephone-assisted CPR; MRDC training program development; design and delivery of the new calltaker training program; delivery of our EMD continuing education and role play program; development and delivery of the Rio Verde Fire District response plans; design and training of personnel in the use of a CPR database and tape recording procedure; and training of herself and others in the use of our EMD builder program.
“Although her accomplishments are many, the true value lies within the results and acceptance.”
The Horizon Award recognizes the technological advancements of comm centers across the nation with the enhancement of voice and data communications. The intent of this award is to acknowledge the efforts of communications centers that have proactively assessed and met the technological and operational needs of their center, employees and service population. The 2012 recipients are:
- Small center—Fort Smith EMS 9-1-1 Communications Center, Arkansas
- Large center—Phoenix Police Communications, Arizona
More information on the Awards and APCO’s 78th Annual Conference & Expo is available on APCO’s website.
Keri Losavio, editor, Public Safety Communications