by ROBIN MURRAY
9-1-1 Training Institute Programs Manager
It was unusually quiet when I walked into the dispatch center at The Village Police Department. Nick Barnhill was working solo. An illness had sent home his backup.
Nick has been a dispatcher for the City of The Village since July 1, 1999. I asked him why he selected emergency dispatch as a profession. “I saw an ad in the paper and applied,” he said with a smile.
Nick’s stepfather had been an Arkansas State Trooper, so Nick was exposed to law enforcement at a young age. He had a little knowledge of what it took to be a dispatcher, though. “Nothing in depth,” he said.
Our conversation had to pause as 9-1-1 started ringing. It was a hang-up; the line was already disconnected when Nick answered it. Nick explained he needed to call the number back. Just because there is no one on the line when you answer a 9-1-1 call does not mean there is no one who needs help. It was possible that a person was trying to get help but had to hang up the phone because of imminent danger. Nick was aware of this and wanted to ensure the caller’s safety. Rather than announcing he was with the Police Department, Nick stated “Hi, my name is Nick. I missed a call from this number. Is everything okay?” Nick was able to confirm that it was an accidental dial and no help was needed.
While it was quiet when I walked into dispatch, it became busy very quickly. Within four minutes Nick got a 9-1-1 call about:
- A reckless driver
- A suspicious person on May Avenue
- A request from the Nichols Hills Police Department to assist with locating a vehicle
- A caller asking for a check on a solicitor
- Officers requesting the Village Fire Department at their location
- A phone call about a man wearing a bikini, a tie, socks and a hat standing beside an open vehicle.
Nick was also handling information requests from officers and entering all information into the police records system at the same time. Nick handled all those tasks quickly and never got flustered. He was polite and patient with all callers, and provided law enforcement and firefighters with quick responses to their requests.
When things settled down for a bit, I asked Nick about the best and worst call he handled. He said he never had what he would consider a “worst call.” He received a call from a young woman who had met a man at a bar. The man later pulled a gun and kidnapped the woman. She escaped and called 9-1-1 while the man was still looking for her. Officers responded immediately to the scene. “I thought for sure someone was going to get shot,” he said. “I kept her on the phone to keep her connected to someone and get a full description of the assailant.”
The officers were able to capture the suspect without shots being fired. And the victim was located before the suspect was able to reach her. Nick counted that call as one of the good ones.
I asked Nick how he feels about helping people every day. He said he doesn’t feel like he helps people; he sends people to help. Lieutenant Kerry Williams was in dispatch at this time, and she told Nick, “Wrong. You help people every day. You’re the first voice people hear when they are having the worst day of their life. And you keep me safe!”
I asked Nick if he had any advice for people who had just started dispatching. “When you are feeling overwhelmed, push through it,” he said. “Keep going. Information in, information out. When the wave goes over you, just hold your breath. You’ll pop back up eventually.”