Every year during the second week of April, the telecommunications personnel in the public safety community are honored during National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week. This event is a time to celebrate and thank those who dedicate their lives to serving their communities. [Source: NPSTW.org]
This year (as well as last year), a Grapevine Police Department employee has been chosen as the Tarrant County Telecommunicator of the Year by the Tarrant County 9-1-1 District. This year’s honor goes to Elizabeth Wheeler!
The following is a description of the incident that Wheeler was most recognized for, though she takes pride in providing excellent public service for all calls during all of her shifts, including recently keeping a calm demeanor during a high-speed chase:
On January 6 2019, Wheeler received a 9-1-1 call from a young man on Grapevine Lake whose kayak had tipped over and blown away. Elizabeth worked quickly to input a call for service and ascertain his location to send first responders.
When the man stated that his legs were becoming numb, Elizabeth encouraged him to continue moving, and assured him that help was on the way. Wind gusts were up to 25 mph, and Elizabeth continuously monitored the caller’s latitude and longitude for any location updates. Once the fireboat spotted him and pulled him into the boat, the man was in a hypothermic state from the cold – his body temperature had dropped to 80 degrees.
Elizabeth stayed on the line with the victim for 25 minutes until his rescue, providing the utmost care, concern and empathy. Her handling of this call and the calm nature that she provided is the perfect example of the positive impact Dispatchers can make.
Elizabeth was honored with a Vocational Service Award and monetary gift from Grapevine Rotary for her actions in this case. [Source: GrapevineTX.gov]
Elizabeth has worked as a Telecommunicator for 13 years, and has been at Grapevine Police Department for a year-and-a-half. She says that she often gets asked if she feels numb after taking so many calls. “I am a point of hope for the people who call me,” she said. “Even if something doesn’t seem like an emergency to me, I have to remember that the caller considers the issue as one. So, I never get ‘numb.’ I have to be present with the caller. I do this because I have a passion to help people.”
Elizabeth has had some humorous calls in her lengthy career. “Parents need to educate their kids about 9-1-1 being only for when someone is hurt or if there’s a fire – things like that. I’ve had kids call me and say they needed help with their homework. That was an emergency to them!
“My weirdest call was in reference to someone’s pet pig getting out. We thought it was a micro or mini pig. Nope! It was a huge pot belly! Her owner was on vacation and it was the first time that the pig was without her ‘person.’ So we had officers respond and save the pig!” Elizabeth added.
As Tarrant County’s Telecommunicator of the Year, Wheeler had the opportunity to throw out the first pitch at the very first Telecommunicator Appreciation Night, at the Rangers vs. the Oakland A’s game at Globe Life Park on April 13! Unfortunately, the game was rained out, but she’ll have another opportunity on June 8, when the Rangers make up the game with the A’s in a double header.
Fortunately, Elizabeth and her family were able to enjoy the evening, despite the weather.
[Editor’s Note: If you’d like to thank your community dispatchers, please DO NOT call 9-1-1 to do so. Call the non-emergency number for your police department or stop by the Public Safety Building to express your thanks.]