Public Safety Telecommunicator Sheena Sartin

Public Safety Telecommunicator Sheena Sartin at the newest dispatching console.

Thanks to a $150,000 grant received through the Cullman County E-911 Board, the City of Cullman’s emergency dispatch center has undergone some much-needed upgrades. The City of Cullman now has a fourth dispatching console, and new communications equipment was installed that includes the ability for public safety telecommunicators to tone fire departments.

“We are thankful to the E-911 Board for this grant,” said Cullman Mayor Woody Jacobs. “Technology is constantly changing, so it is vital that our 911 system adapts in order to meet the needs of our changing world.”

The Cullman County E-911 Emergency Service System was created by the Cullman County Commission on September 18, 1987, ten months after the people of Cullman County voted to establish an emergency communications system. Several years of preparation followed which included road numbering, planning, equipment purchasing, installation, and testing. The system became operational in 1991. But there have been a lot of changes since the first 911 call occurred in June of 1991, and today’s public safety telecommunicators face new challenges.

Today more than 90 percent of 911 calls for service are made using cell phones. Unlike landline calls, calls placed to 911 from cell phones do not automatically give telecommunicators the actual address a call is being placed from. Also, with steady growth and an increase in tourism, the number of emergency calls have increased. The additional console and new equipment will help dispatchers meet those increased demands. Other Cullman County Dispatch Centers have also applied for the grant and should receive their equipment in the following days or weeks.

For twelve years, starting in 1994, Cullman Fire Rescue’s Jeff Shelton was responsible for handling 911 calls.

“At that time, I was the only dispatcher on duty and was responsible for answering 911 calls, dispatching ambulances, and toning 26 different fire departments," said Shelton who now oversees the operations of the City of Cullman emergency dispatch center. "Since then, call volumes have greatly increased and one person can no longer do the job alone. That is a perfect example of the growth Cullman County has seen.

“The emergency telecommunication profession is not easy and most don’t understand the complexity of what these men and women deal with each day,” said Jeff Shelton. “They are highly skilled in multi-tasking – operating multiple radio, phone, and mapping systems while obtaining pertinent information for police, fire, and medical responders to help them respond as quickly and safely as possible. I thank all of our local public safety telecommunicators – City of Cullman, Cullman County, City of Hanceville, and Cullman Emergency Medical Services – for their dedication, professionalism, and service to our communities.”

“Being a public safety telecommunicator is a difficult job, and is often very stressful. We depend greatly on them, and they do a wonderful job of covering us when we’re in the field,” said Cullman Police Chief Kenny Culpepper.

“In any emergency – whether it is for a fire service matter, police matter, or EMS incident – the public safety telecommunicator is the first individual to be involved," explained Cullman Fire Chief Brian Bradberry. "These professionals are the first ones to start bringing order into the chaos of whatever may be happening. They fill many roles from calming the citizens who are calling, to getting correct and vital information, to making sure the right agencies are going to the right places at the right times.

“We have some of the most dedicated and professional telecommunicators in the nation,” said Bradberry. “However, they are rarely seen in the spotlight or out in the community. But without them, the rest of the emergency services could not function. We are very proud of the exceptional work they do for the City of Cullman and all the citizens, visitors, and fellow emergency service agencies. So this week we salute them and the work they perform.”

To learn more about the Cullman County E-911 system, visit cullman911.org.

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