For any manner of emergency, whether it be crime, medical, fire, or even a lost pet, dispatchers at the Heber Springs Police Department are usually the first to know and first to help. It is their dedication and expertise that often determines what type of responder is needed to aid members of the community.
While answering calls through the 911 system and the general police line is a big part of their job, dispatcher responsibilities go far beyond this basic service.
"We do sit and answer phones, but we also manage dispatch for 13 fire departments, 6 EMS crews, 5 police departments, the Sheriff's Office on nights and weekends, and also civil matters," said Samantha Tharp of Heber Springs Dispatch. "We do paperwork for every department. Every warrant that is entered in our city or county, we have our hands on."
The activity in the dispatch office varies from day to day. Some days, it is a nonstop endeavor.
"It really does depend on the day and a lot of times, the shift," she said. "It's not a job where you can say 'on Monday's I'm going to be busy'. You could be slow as slow can be on a Monday and then slammed on a Thursday."
Tharp said court day is Tuesday, so that day can often be particularly busy. Summers at the campgrounds and holiday weekends also often see an uptick in their workload.
"This past year, though, I would say we were busier during the week with locals than we were with the tourists coming in to the lake or for holidays," she said.
Tharp said the most common misconception some in the public have of their job is they sit watching television and playing on phones while waiting for the next call to come through the system.
Providing 911 service quickly and accurately is the prime responsibility for dispatchers. Ascertaining what help the caller needs can often be difficult, especially if the caller is in a heightened emotional and distressed state.
"They can be pretty difficult if you've got that emotional, irate person," she said. "We go through a lot of training to help us figure out what people need in that state. If you can get them to calm down enough to get information, that's great. We do have the 911 map. If you can call from a landline, that's even better because it can give us an exact location of where that person is and we can figure out who to send. If the caller can at least get us an address, that will go a long way to getting them help as fast as possible. An address will help us help them faster than continuing to tell us what's going on."
Although they do get a few calls from people using the 911 system for non-emergencies, it doesn't happen very often.
"We get more pocket dials than anything," she laughingly said. "One good example of what is not a 911 call that we get is people reporting controlled burns. That's probably our number one call in 911 that doesn't need to come through there. If anyone needs to report a controlled burn, we ask that they please use the regular phone number for the police department."
Tharp has been a dispatcher at the Heber Springs Police Department for three years, recently being promoted to supervisor. For anyone interested in dispatching, she had a few words of advice.
"There are a lot of internet resources where people can learn about dispatching," she said. "They can always call and talk to me too. I'm here on weekdays from 8-4. My phone is always on at the police department. If it's a slower day, we can talk and do a tour or something like that."
If you would like any information on dispatching or the Heber Springs Police Department in general, give them a call at 501-362-3661.