By Matt Henson
GRAND FORKS, North Dakota (WDAY) — They are there when you call for help. But now, more and more dispatch centers in our region are calling 911 for help.
Jamee Hillman was busy answering some of the over three hundred 911 calls that come into the Grand Forks dispatch center each day. A center that called her for help.
“(Y)ou have to have somebody in that chair,” Hillman said.
The 47-year-old wife and mother of two grown children lives in Kansas, but has been traveling to Grand Forks on a regular basis since February to help the short-staffed dispatch center.
Hillman is what is referred to as a dispatcher on demand. She is the first ever traveling dispatcher in the United States. She has 28 years of experience back home.
“I could go local and do that, but there is something different about helping the helpers,” Hillman said.
The Grand Forks dispatch center was fully staffed until COVID-19. Over the past year they’ve run into their own emergency.
Currently, only 15 of the 22 positions are filled at the center. That’s why the director agreed to have Grand Forks be the first in the country to bring in traveling dispatchers.
“I’m a solution-based person and I am open to finding solutions that are going to provide the support for my staff,” said Grand Forks Public Safety Answering-Point Director Shannon Lahaise, .
Hillman is one of 80 certified traveling dispatchers covering 12 different agencies across the country.
The program was founded by the Maureen Dieckmann, CEO of Moetivations, after hearing about the staffing crisis nationwide, mostly due to burnout.
“Where they said 82% of the United States 911 centers are (at) 50% staffing or below or 60% and below. So the statistics, depending on which report you’re reading, there’s a significant number of centers,” Dieckmann said.
The thin gold line, the first line of first responders, does more than answer the phone. They relay other critical information to first responders on their way to a call.
Hillman said the hardest part at the beginning was learning the local lingo.
“I came up here a few times. I had rented a car and I was able to drive around Grand Forks, and it all just came together and I understood the city and the landmarks,” said Hillman.
In all the dispatch center in Grand Forks has used about a dozen dispatchers on demand since the program was launched earlier this year, which the director says has gone smoothly.
“It’s like watching an orchestra work together,” Lahaise said.
Hillman is a dispatcher coming to the aid of her brothers and sisters on the thin gold line, but more importantly making sure that your call for help is answered right away.
“(I)f I can be that calm voice in their darkest moment, then to me that’s a save,” said Hillman.
She also fills in at the dispatch center in Portland, Maine.
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