Updated: Mar 18, 2019
By: Amy Pullen & Terra Pearson
First off, I would like to thank Humanizing the Headset for contacting me and asking me to share my story. We all have that “one” call that will stick with us forever, this is mine….
Before dispatching, I worked as a Medical Assistant in various departments for approximately 11 years and absolutely loved my job. From working in the lab to rooming patients to casting tech in Ortho, I loved it all. In 2008 I was working for Essentia Health in Virginia, Minnesota. Because of certification issues, I was laid off. During that time, I decided to become a First Responder. I attended the six month class, finishing in November of 2009. On our last day of class, we toured the 911 center in our area. During the tour, one of the dispatchers had mentioned they were hiring and the rest is history.
I started dispatching for St. Louis County, which is the largest county in Minnesota. The county is so large that we had a second dispatch center in Duluth, Minnesota. After a few years, they decided to combine centers and everyone from the Virginia office was given the chance to transfer down. I had worked for St. Louis County for five years, but decided to apply at Douglas County in Superior, Wisconsin. I loved my St. Louis County family, but the drive was far-especially with our winters. I started at Douglas County in April of 2014.
Douglas County Wisconsin is located in Northwestern Wisconsin. It’s approximately 1,480 square miles with a population of 43,284 as of 2017. The dispatch center currently has one supervisor and ten dispatchers. We are however approved for 12 dispatchers and are short staffed as of now. We work set 12 hour shifts. 6am-6pm, 6pm-6am and a couple of flex shifts 8a-8p and 8p-8a. We pick shifts every 4 months. I’m currently working Thursday, Friday, Saturday and every 3rd Sunday from 6am-6pm. This is the first time I have worked a set day shift in my 10 years of dispatching.
October 15, 2018, Jayme Closs was initially reported as missing in Barron County Wisconsin, after her parents were found murdered in their home. Barron County is two counties South of Douglas County. Our dispatch center is located in Superior, Wisconsin and is approximately 105 miles north of Barron, Wisconsin. Douglas County participated in the initial search for Jayme and spent many days in Barron County assisting their agency.
This wasn’t just a typical missing juvenile. This was a juvenile that was taken from her home after both of her parents had been murdered, so we were well aware who Jayme Closs was. Her information was broadcast nationally because of the severity of the situation and not knowing where she could be, just that she was possibly in danger. I didn’t take any tips during the 88 days Jayme was missing, but I was told that multiple agencies received both tips and sightings.
On January 10, 2019, I reported for my first day shift at 0600. On my drive to work, I
thought to myself, “What was I thinking? Dayshift, really.” After working night shifts for 10 years, I didn’t know if I was going to like it or not. I really loved my night crew and the atmosphere, I just needed a change. My first day shift was a typical day, nothing out of the ordinary. Traffic stops, Fraud, Lift Assists, Burglaries, amongst other calls, However all of that changed at 1611 when I received a call from a woman stating:
“Hi, I have a young lady at my house right now and she says her name is Jayme Closs.”
It took me a couple of seconds to process what the woman had just told me. At first I got the address and started asking questions. I realized the woman I was speaking with was not the woman who actually came upon Jayme, I asked to speak to the woman who had. When Jeanne Nutter got on the phone, I asked her if she had seen a photo of the missing juvenile, she said she had and it was definitely her. In my mind I was putting the words together in my head and how I was going to dispatch this over the air.
Our county channel is not encrypted so the public can listen in from time to time. Knowing this, I didn’t want to state Jayme’s name over the radio and create chaos, but wanted to give the deputies enough information so they would know exactly what I was talking about. Even though I tried to limit information over the air, I’m sure missing juvenile from Barron County sparked everyone’s attention. There was no way of getting around it, information had to be dispatched. It wasn’t very long and our center was flooded with calls from Deputies, off duty officers and the media calling and asking if what they heard was correct.
Because I stayed on the phone with the caller, I still was required to keep up with my radio traffic while my partner was slammed with the phone calls and still maintained her city radio traffic. I remember looking at my partner with wide eyes and her looking back at me, asking if I thought it was legitimate. I mouthed to her, “I think so.”
In 10 years of dispatching I never really felt scared or nervous taking 911 calls, and I didn’t really feel that way taking this call either. It was just a feeling that I had never felt before. I guess the best way to describe what I felt was anxious. My whole body started to sweat and shake. Not because I was scared, but I wanted the deputies to get down there as fast as they could and make sure she was safe. I remember asking Jeanne, “do you think she is going to run?” I just didn’t want this young girl who had been through so much already, to get spooked and take off.
I don’t remember everything I asked the caller, besides the typical questions. Does
she know the person’s name that took her? Does she know when he’s coming back?
Does she know what kind of car he drives? Was she going to need medical attention? So on and so on. I stayed on the line with her for approximately 30 minutes or maybe a little less. There was no way I was letting her off the phone until I knew the deputy was safely with her. I remember the deputies voice coming up on the radio and saying, “I have her.” It was then that I took a sigh, a deep breath and disconnected the 911 call.
The first thing I did after getting off of the 911 call was I put my head in my hands and
started to cry. Not because of the call, but for the simple fact that Jayme was no longer
missing and was safe. Although a person wants to remain positive and hope for the
best, I think a lot of people including myself, expected the worst. It’s not too often that you hear of a happy ending when the beginning was such a nightmare! I remember
thinking over and over, Jayme Closs isn’t missing anymore, she’s safe, she saved
herself and she’s 13 years old. I think a part of me was in disbelief.
After 5-10 minutes of getting off of the phone, I remember just wanting to get up and out of the dispatch room. My anxiety was running high and I couldn’t sit still. Thankfully I was toward the end of my shift when the majority of the deputies were on scene and things started to calm down. At 1800, my relief showed up and I left for the day. I got into my car, turned on the radio and drove home.
I don’t remember my drive home. It was like I was in a zone and my mind was racing, trying to process what had just taken place. I walked in the door and was met by my 19 year old son. He knew something was up because he had texted me while I was at work and I responded back, “can’t talk.” In 10 years, he had never heard that from me.
I remember hugging him and telling him, Jayme was located. He said, “Jayme Closs, no way!” Right away he asked me if I took the call and I told him I did. He thought that was so cool. My son has always been proud of me and the job I do, even though to me, it’s just my job. I can’t lie, it’s a good feeling knowing your child is proud of you and sometimes thinks you are a big deal!
It was hard to relax that evening and I struggled to go to bed. My adrenaline pretty much ran all night. I was scheduled to work the next morning at 0600 and was frustrated at not being able to fall asleep. My mind just wasn’t ready to go to bed. Unfortunately I only got a couple of hours of sleep that night.
The next few days consisted of phone calls from media wanting an interview. This
was definitely out of my comfort zone. I’m the last person that wants to be in front of a camera, but I felt the need for people to know and realize, Jayme was her own hero
that day. Had it not been for her, it would’ve never happened. I felt the need for people to know how courageous she was. I’m the adult in the situation and I look up to
I met with media from the twin cities, and did an interview with HLN (owned by
CNN). I was really surprised at how curious they were about dispatchers and what the
job entails. They kept saying things like, “What do you think when people call you a hero?” and “How did you manage to stay calm?” All I could think to myself was first off, I’m anything but a hero. I stay calm, because that’s my job and why I continue to dispatch. I’m sure the majority of dispatchers would probably agree and feel the same way.
We have to admit, we are a special kind of people. Maybe even worth an evaluation at
times. Think about it, day after day we talk to people on their worst days and go home
after our shift like nothing happened. I’ve often wondered if I’m a cold person, but I know that’s not the case because I care about every single person in my life and am constantly affected by what goes on with them. I think dispatchers have a gift of disassociating themselves from the calls they handle and move on to the next. But there are always a few that stick with you, and this is one that is still with me. In some way, shape or form, dispatchers have a weird sense of humor. I always find it comical when there is a trainee in the room and they have never dispatched before. They listen to us and our comments, and it’s like deer in headlights. They can’t believe some of the things that come out of a dispatcher’s mouth, but a year later, they find themselves doing the same thing. It’s not that dispatchers are cold, mean or don’t care, I believe it’s a coping mechanism that we all use to keep ourselves from going crazy with all of the negative things we deal with on a day to day basis.
Approximately a week after Jayme escaped, we had an informal debriefing with the
sheriff, deputies, my partner and I. I’ve had many opportunities to go to debriefings in
the past, but never felt I needed them. This one was a must for me. The entire week, I hadn’t been able to get my mind off of Jayme. I think a lot of it had to do with me being a mom and feeling the need to protect her. It’s now been a little over a month, and I still think of her daily. I’ve been asked by many people if I would like to meet Jayme, and the answer is yes, but only if she is comfortable with the idea. With everything that she has been through at such a young age, she is going to need a lot of time to heal and get use to her new normal.
For me personally, I don’t feel my life has been affected. There are many people who
have asked me questions. Some I can answer and some I can’t. Every dispatcher has
been asked at one time or another “What is the craziest call you have taken?” And with
this call being high profile, it’s expected everyone outside of this job is going to have
questions. People are so intrigued with the work we do, but I find a lot of people have
misconceptions or have a Hollywood idea about what we do. There is nothing glorious
about this job. It comes down to wanting to help people in their darkest hours and
knowing you can handle any situation.
Too often people are thankful for police, firefighters and paramedics, which they should be. Dispatchers however are often forgotten because they are an unseen face and voice on the phone and radio. If you ask any dispatcher, our greatest reward is knowing that we helped someone.
For the past 19 years, I have devoted myself to being a mom. I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, and am always learning. Just like dispatching and parenting, it’s not something that can be taught. You either have the skills or you don’t. I think that being a single parent has helped me be a better dispatcher along with some of the things that I have gone through in my past. In 2005, my dad was diagnosed with kidney cancer. There are 4 different kinds of kidney cancer and unfortunately he had the most aggressive. I took a leave of absence from work, and took care of him daily until he passed away in January 2006. It was the worst time in my life. Not just taking care of my dad, but raising my son at the same time, who was only five. But I wouldn’t change it for anything. It taught me a lot and made me realize I can deal with the toughest of situations. It also taught me to show compassion for others. Sometimes people just need a calm and understanding voice to talk to.
Now that my son is 19, he is becoming more and more independent, which leaves me feeling the empty nest syndrome more and more. It’s a sad feeling, but I’m so proud of him at the same time. So now, I guess it’s time for me to find something to occupy my time besides work. Before the Jayme Closs call, I had been brainstorming about what I could do with my extra time now that my son needs me less. I’ve always wanted to volunteer for hospice. They did such a great job when they would come to my dad’s home and I’ve wanted to give back. I just never felt
A few months ago, a friend of mine started a blog about empty nesters and I found a lot of comfort in reading her posts. It made me think about maybe starting a blog of my own. I’ve been through a lot in my life. Some would describe it as a “colorful” story, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Everything that I have been through has made me the person I am today. So when I received a card in the mail from “Humanizing the Headset” asking if I would write about my experience in taking the Jayme Closs 911 call, I jumped at the chance. It has been very therapeutic writing my experience and sharing a small portion of my life. Who knows, maybe I’ll even start my own blog someday! I’m just glad 911 dispatchers are getting the recognition they deserve. We are nameless, we are faceless, we are fearless, we are priceless…..We are DISPATCHERS!
Amy wasn't the only dispatcher in the comm center that afternoon. Her partner, Terra Pearson, was working the other side of things. Things don't just stop happening because of a major incident - the show must go on, and Terra did a fantastic job holding it all down. Here is her story...
What is the workload at your Comm Center normally like? Do you split duties and assign tasks? What is your call volume normally like and how much of an increase did you see? Also, how is your Radio traffic handled?
On the day shift, we typically have three dispatchers on duty. One person working City of Superior radio traffic, one dispatcher working the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department channel, and the third working the Fire radios, which are made up of the 19 volunteer fire departments and the City of Superior’s three Engine companies.
When this incident took place, Amy maintained the Sheriff’s channel and the Volunteer Fire Department channel. I maintained the City of Superior channel and the City Fire channel. For some reason, when this call came into our center, that’s when people in the area felt the need to make non-emergency calls to 911. I had one person calling during all of this wanting to know if we were the 911 Center for Virginia Beach. “I checked their website and it says, if this is an emergency to call 911, why didn’t I reach Virginia Beach?” **insert forehead slap here.**
Is your area accessible to the public? Did you also have a window that you had to manage?
No, thankfully our area is NOT accessible to the public. You need to be buzzed in to get access to our center. The jail and police desk are separate from us entirely. We are tucked away in a nice dark area of the building!
Had you and Amy worked together before?
Amy and I had worked together on random shifts that either of us had picked up and it was the other’s standard shift. She had worked a good amount of day shifts prior to that call with me. I think our agency is of a size where we are easily able to hear and understand what others are going through and you just do what you need to do to make it work. I would like to say the majority of us would have handled that situation similarly.
Amy mentioned it was her first dayshift. How long have you been on that shift? How long have you been dispatching in general?
I’ve been dispatching for over 13 years. I worked strictly nights for the first eight plus years while my kids were young and otherwise would have required daycare. When my husband decided he wanted to enlist in the Army, I went to a day shift for the time he was at boot camp, but quickly switched back to nights when he got home. Fast forward a few years, and I went to days while he was deployed to Afghanistan. I never did end up going back to nights once I realized what it was like to have a “normal” sleep schedule.
What were your thoughts when Amy told you what she had?
Our work stations are so close together, she didn’t have to tell me what she had, I already knew. I remember looking over and asking “Is this LEGIT?” All she could say was, “I really think so!” That’s pretty much when I knew shit was about to go down, and to brace ourselves for the impact. I remember telling Amy, “If it is, this is about to change your life!”
What did you do specifically to help support Amy while she was dealing with the phone call? How did she react after that day and was it just as emotional for you? Are there any after effects of how you feel now? How did the stress of taking on all of the center’s responsibilities affect you on a professional and personal level?
Professionally, I just wanted/needed to field everything coming in and going out of our Comm Center to ensure Amy’s ability to maintain contact with her caller. She put the call on hold once, and I told her “Don’t worry about answering other calls, I’ve got all of this, you keep them on the line.” I wanted to make sure that if anything progressed, she was on the line and able to forward that information to our responders. The most important thing I could do was support her and allow her to field this call uninterrupted. It was definitely a stressful period of time.
I was there to answer any questions Amy had, and remain calm so that she was calm. I would like to think that me handling the call volume allowed her to keep everyone at the residence calm as well. She was great about adding information into the CAD system to keep everyone updated and the information/progress of the incident time stamped.
On a personal level? I’m not going to lie, I’m kind of a “disconnected” dispatcher. I don’t tend to take these calls home with me - I do what I can to leave work at work. It was awesome to be a part of that day, and I’m so thankful Jayme escaped, and is reunited with her family. Aside from that, I don’t feel any different today about working or being here when it all happened. I'm proud of Amy and everything we did that day to ensure a safe outcome.
What was the call volume at the time that wasn’t Closs related? Were you working other high priority calls?
For the 31 minutes Amy was on the line, I fielded approximately 17 calls ranging in length from 30 seconds to four minutes each. Basically, I was answering one line after another, placing some callers on hold if it wasn’t an absolute emergency and moving on to the next. I also maintained City of Superior radio traffic and the City Fire Department radio traffic as well. I remember at one point having to just write down names and addresses and remember what it was they needed because I had two others on hold at the same time that needed my attention. Thankfully, there were no High priority calls coming in during that time. It’s best described as “feeling like an octopus, trying to keep up with all of it”.
Do you have a policy to call in more people for events like this? Did you send out a page to see if someone could come in early to help?
We could have called someone in if we felt it was necessary. The response time to this call, and the response time to the Comm Center would have been about the same. Our portion of “the call” would have been completed before anyone would have had time to gather their things and come in to help.
Did you have more calls from within the agency or from external sources like the media?
We did have SOME calls from inside the agency, which for the most part started off with “I know you’re busy, but…” That doesn’t alleviate the stress of what is taking place during that time. We understand that MOST are just checking to see if their services are needed, such as when we receive questions like, “Will an SRT (Sprecial Response Team) response be necessary?” But some of the questions we received were, “Is this for REAL?” We couldn’t give them an answer to those questions, because we didn’t know. Sometimes, I’d just like to respond, “If we need you, we will call you.”
How long did it take before you received the first media call? If you had to guess, how many calls would you guess were received from the media?
I wouldn’t even be able to take a guess on how many media calls we took. I do know that a TV Station in Minneapolis called before one of our Investigators was able to call us to confirm what call we were working on. I’m still not sure how they were able to get the info so quickly. I believe after a certain amount of time had passed, all media requests went through a number the Sheriff had set up, and any interviews with Amy went through our Comm Center Supervisor.
Were any of the people calling in that day on duty? Did you wish they just came in to ask you, rather then tie up your phone lines?
That was one of my comments during the debrief that I attended with Amy… “If you’re not willing to call the folks who are dealing with this call on the road/street, please don’t call us in the Comm Center”. Not only are we dealing with everything possible relating to this case, we are still fielding emergency calls, and other radio transmissions. I was quite thankful for the officers who were working and messaged us with their questions, allowing me to get things prioritized and who were patient with me getting them answers. I also ran into “I see that call pending in the que, send it to me, and I’ll take care of it”. That day, it was all about teamwork!
Do you ever feel like your deputies don't understand what it's going on in the comm center or how already being busy, them calling in ads more stress to the job?
I think most of them DO understand, but they want to help so much that the “I know you’re busy but…” comes into play. I’m not sure they understand what KIND of extra pressure/stress that adds to our workload though. We HAVE in the past had Officers/Deputies stop down and ask us if there was anything we needed, or anything they could do to help us out. I/WE appreciate those gestures. We are often an afterthought to some, even though they depend on us for so much.
How did you decompress after that shift?
I took a deep breath, checked on Amy and went about the day. It affected me much differently than it did Amy. She was connected with the caller. I was behind the scenes “holding down the fort” until help arrived. It worked out great!
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