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Dispatch training is realistic

Friday, September 21, 2012

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Realistic calls about emergencies for area fire, rescue and police departments that went out over police scanners Thursday were part of a training exercise for dispatchers.

Debbie Kaczor, training coordinator at the Piedmont Training Academy in Martinsville, said 10 dispatchers from Martinsville, Henry County, Pittsylvania County, Danville and Patrick County were in the four-day class that ended Thursday.

As “part of their classes, they are required to do practical training, and this is the practical training,” she said of Thursday’s “emergencies” involving fictitious dispatches. “They are actually on the radio” handling calls, with instructors in one room and students in another.

The calls do “go out on a (radio) band” that is seldom used, but still may be heard on some scanners, she said.

“We had tried to make sure we announced that it was a training exercise many times today, and for the most part, I have not received any calls” of concern about the different scenarios, Kaczor said.

The training was an entry-level dispatcher class, and Thursday’s exercise was part of the curriculum.

The training is required even though a majority of the students enrolled in the classes have been employed by area departments, for several weeks in some cases, Kaczor said.

“We do have a live 911 center down here,” which makes the practical training realistic, Kaczor said.

“This is a training exercise only. This is a training exercise only,” was announced before and after exercises, according to Kaczor and traffic on the scanner.

Then, a scenario was presented. In one case, a female voice was heard saying, “Officer down at Friendly’s Bar & Grill ... Requesting additional units at Friendly’s Bar & Grill. Officer down.”

There were different scenarios of situations in fire, rescue and police calls, Kaczor said, and “every dispatcher must go through every one.”

Instructors at the academy craft the scenarios that may include an officer shot, gang activity, suspicious characters and nearly everything in between, she said.

Creating the scenarios “is fun, and we use all fictitious” business names for the training calls, Kaczor said.

Generally, dispatcher classes are held annually, she said, and noted that by late Thursday afternoon, the practical testing still was underway.

“It takes a long time” to complete the scenarios, Kaczor said, and noted that the emergency situations are designed to be complicated.

“Our goal is that” students completing the class “can dispatch comfortably,” Kaczor said. “I feel confident they all will pass” Thursday’s exercises.


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