Athens County 911 Operators Experience Emotional Distress

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At the Athens County 911 center, the environment is often hectic.

Shannon Forrider, an Athens County 911 dispatcher, has worked the lines for nearly 15 years and says it's common for all three operators to be busy at once.

The center sends police, fire and ambulance services all over the county.

Forrider says that sometimes, the heavy volume of distress calls is tough to deal with emotionally.

"It's like you try to pull yourself back so you don't get attached, but on certain calls you can't help but get attached. When you hear the kid on the line or the person pleading, and you're the only link they have, it's hard," she said.    

A study published last month in the Journal of Traumatic Stress found that one-third of all traumatic 911 calls caused dispatchers to become emotionally distressed.

Three percent of operators are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Last year, the Athens County Emergency Medical Services began directing its calls into the West Washington Street building. That change gave the dispatchers greater responsibility in dealing with emergency situations.

Forrider isn't the only one who connects to the calls.  All of the dispatchers working at the 911 center say they experience similar highs and lows on the job.

Scott Warner, Athens County 911 director, said his office makes an effort to check up on employees and offer them help if they need it.

"It's available if somebody deals with something that's really stressful. There are counselors that we can bring in and help people deal with those types of things," said Warner.

Forrider said that although a day in the life of a 911 operator can be stressful, guiding callers through CPR and keeping them calm until advanced care arrives is also gratifying.

"You have that relief at the end when you get the appropriate responders there, they save the person or something good happens. That's always a good feeling," she said.

Warner says the busiest time at the Athens County 911 center is between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m. right after the workday ends.