County selects Ramona man Dispatcher of the Year
When San Diego County Sheriff’s Department hired Benny Hernandez to answer emergency calls in 1979, they did things differently.
All information was handwritten on a card, time-stamped and then placed in racks to be given to U.S. Navy radio chiefs who would then dispatch the calls to deputies in the field.
Now, sheriff’s dispatchers use a computer-aided system. They are cross-trained to answer 911 and non-emergency calls and work radios, dispatching calls for service. When working the radio, a dispatcher has assigned deputies — which can range from about 40 to more than 90 units in a special law enforcement detail. But if the computers were to go down, dispatchers are trained to return to the card system.
San Diego County Sheriff’s Department gets approximately 620,000 non-emergency and 911 calls for law enforcement, fire and emergency medical aid every year. That averages about 1,700 calls a day.
Hernandez, a Ramona resident, says the job can get his adrenaline going.
“The hardest part of this job is trying to keep up with the calls and the radio traffic,” he said.
At 57, Hernandez is the department’s most senior emergency services dispatcher, and he was voted Dispatcher Employee of the Year by the Sheriff’s Communications Division last Wednesday for his nearly 37 years of service.
He has heard and seen a lot in that time, and many of those calls were tragic. Some of the most vivid calls he helped with were from the 2003 and 2007 wildfires and the two school shootings in 2001.
During the shootings, he didn’t handle the main call, but the whole floor erupted with calls from parents of students, all trying to get information about their child, he recalled.
The advent of cell phones has been an issue for dispatchers. When people call in on land-line phones, an address automatically pops up for dispatchers. Now, with so many people calling from mobile phones, all dispatchers get initially is a cell tower.
Hernandez said that people sometimes call screaming for help, then hang up, and there is no way to pinpoint them. Dispatchers call back, but sometimes the people don’t answer. Dispatchers then try to get subscriber information to help find the callers, but that takes valuable time when officers could be responding.
“We need your location. That’s one of the problems with a cellular call,” he said.
Hernandez works days now, but he worked the midnight shift for much of his career. Despite the often stressful calls, Hernandez said he has worked with a lot of really good people and that has made it worth it. He is retiring this summer but said he may find some other work.
The San Diego County Board of Supervisors honored sheriff’s dispatchers with a proclamation as part of National Telecommunications
Week, the second full week in April. In accepting the proclamation for the dispatchers, Sheriff Bill Gore called dispatchers the “hardest working people in public safety” and said that, in addition to helping the public, “they serve on a daily basis as their lifeline for deputy sheriffs.”
The recognition for the dispatchers included a visit from San Diego Chargers players.
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