Since 1994, the second week in April is Public Safety Telecommunications week. It celebrates the work of American emergency dispatchers. Easton has a staff of three full- and five part-time dispatchers who respond to an estimated 600 calls a year.
In recognizing their work, Chief Richard Doyle said, “Speaking from the heart, they have an awesome responsibility. They take the information they get and direct police, fire and emergency services.”
For that reason, dispatchers are commonly referred to as “first, first responders” because they make the first point of contact with most incidents and those involved.
“They are unsung heroes because they are selfless in their jobs,” Doyle said, “Even the part-timers always show up for work and I really appreciate what they do for the community.”
Perhaps the most familiar of them is Tara Candee, who has been fielding calls in the police department for 11 years. Her father, James Candee, served as Easton’s Police chief from 2012 to 2015.
Tara Candee graduated from Stony Brook University in 2009 with a degree in science and had no thoughts about a career in the police department. She had worked part-time in the records room during school breaks but wasn’t sure she wanted to be a dispatcher when the position became available.
“It’s a lot of responsibility, and I wasn’t sure I was ready,” she said.
She conferred with her mom, who was an Easton police dispatcher 40 years ago. She shared her concerns about the stress and pressures of the job and her mom agreed, “it’s not for everybody.”
Tara Candee took a chance and took the job. She grew more confident with time and training. “It comes with experience and repetition,” she said.
Dispatching is the work of an audio detective; it requires multi-layered listening. It’s not just hearing the words and interpreting the information, Tara Candee has observed over the years on the job. “It’s the tone of voice, the background sounds — both noises and other voices — and what the speaker is not saying that help gauge the situation.”
Andrew Tisdale has dispatched in the department for four years full-time and 1 1/2 years part-time and describes the challenges this way, “It’s very important to be calm when the caller is panicked. It’s five times more difficult on the phone than in person.
“You have to be able to get a picture to the first responders so they know what they’re walking into before they get there,” he said.
Tisdale brings an extra skill set to the job. He has been — and still is — an Easton emergency medical technician (EMT). Having responded to the other side of emergency calls, he can visualize a scene as he hears it, however unclear.
Matt Caldwell also works in Easton EMS and has been the overnight dispatcher for about 10 years.
A criminal justice and American studies major at Mt. Ida College in Massachusetts, Matt pursued police work as a member of the Police Cadet Program in Easton when he was a teenager at Joel Barlow High School. He was hired by Chief John Solomon in 2010.
“At night, most calls are very serious and when they happen, certain protocols are in place to address them,” but he emphasized, “any time of day, we anticipate that every call can be urgent, and we are prepared for that.”
Such was the case on April 7 at 3 a.m. when a fire engulfed a home at 330 Rock House Road. Caldwell had to quickly assess the situation, evaluating each piece of incoming information and simultaneously had to make a series of calls for help, in this instance for mutual aid from area emergency services.
“In cases like this, the first 15 minutes are the most stressful,” Caldwell said. “We have to keep calm. We have a good system to triage calls as they come in even when several come in at once.”
Regardless of the degree of urgency, Caldwell and his fellow dispatchers write a complete narrative about each call. It includes entering the incoming call, all relevant personnel, response times, and results into Easton’s Computer Automated Dispatch (CAD) software program. Thereafter, a complete document of the incident can be permanently retained and accessed in the future.
“Easton dispatchers receive approximately 400 hours of training to be qualified for the job,” Doyle said. He provided a list of their ongoing responsibilities:
- Monitoring 80 cameras at local schools and other public buildings
- Maintaining certification to use classified State and FBI databases
- Screening all medical calls to determine what additional resources are needed
- Communicating with public utilities during normal and emergency operations
- Answering calls for service and providing critical information to emergency personnel
- Providing general information and resources to the public
In addition to the full-time staff, Doyle also praised the part-time staff for their dedication and hard work: Gabrielle Montanez, Dawn Rice, Marjorie Arnold, Kevin Shevlin Jr. and John G. Ojarovsky.
There are, in addition to emergencies, calls that are unique to rural communities like Easton. These include roaming dogs, wandering cows and horses, wildlife sightings, and reports of screaming fisher cats, which have been mistaken for the shrieks of women in distress.
Whatever the emergency, Easton dispatchers answer the call with skill and caring.