Meet the Folks Who Answer 911

By Greg Ritchie

Messenger Reporter

HOUSTON COUNTY –  National Public Safety Tele-communicators Week is celebrated each year during the second week of April and The Messenger thought it only proper to speak with some of the hard-working people who take those emergency calls – night or day – and get help out whenever and wherever it’s needed. 

Many people have the idea the Houston County Dispatch office – located within the sheriff’s department – only dispatches for the sheriff’s office, itself. Quite the opposite, as the office handles call for sheriff’s deputies, along with Crockett and Grapeland Police Departments, all of the school district police departments and all of the fire departments in the county. 

They will all tell you this job is not for everyone, requiring long months of training and a level of patience and a will to serve that many would find difficult to endure. The long 12-hour shifts can be rough, with busy days filled with both emergency and administrative calls and the nights peppered with more intense calls, albeit not as frequent. 

The three ladies who were making their shift change this Thursday evening were happy to speak about the job – with one veteran, one completing training and one still learning the ropes. We were not allowed to photograph any of the screens the dispatchers use for privacy reasons, but the setup is modern, allowing them to route calls to whomever is needed and keep officers up-to-date in real time, as further calls expand on a situation. 

Klinesha Fransaw
Julia Anne Evans
Joseph Martin
Jess Cunningham
Jennifer Cruz
Jaidan Jones
J.D. Pruitt
Bre Morris

The ladies said they deal with all types of calls, from the traditional cats in trees, to much more life-threatening situations. It can’t be easy to take these calls – after all, most people dial 911 on the worst day of their life. They can be panicked, in shock and unable to process information. It’s the dispatchers’ job to remain calm, understand what is going on and get help in route. They can ill afford mistakes – not sending an ambulance fast enough, sending the firefighters to the wrong address or sending officers in unexpected and dangerous situations – all part of the weight on their shoulders with every ring of the phone. 

During the interview, one person called to report what they believed to be a downed power line. The dispatcher was able to check and find out it was likely a cable television line and put the caller at ease. Another call was a hangup. A call back to the person received no answer. The dispatchers sent a unit to investigate. It could have been kids, or a mistake – but chances cannot be taken and each call is given priority – just in case. 

Solcum High School graduate Jaidan Jones has been working for the county for six months now. She was coming off a 6 a.m.-6 p.m. shift and said her father was a state trooper and she had been listening to radio chatter all her life. 

“Well, you see what they show on television – but it’s completely different. It definitely was not what I expected. When one thing happens, everything starts to happen, all at once,” Jones said. “You’re never fully prepared for so many things to go on at once, but I really like it here.”

Jones intends to stay on the job, even with its unique challenges. 

Coming on for the night shift was Bre Morris, who has worked for the county since 2021 and was a dispatcher for other areas before that. After graduating high school, Morris got her start at the young age of 18.

“Trinity police department was hiring and I thought, ‘Well they offer insurance…,’” Morris remembered. “I guess I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. But I love the job. And it’s definitely more of a calling than just a job.”

Morris can’t see herself doing anything else, hoping to retire in the dispatch center, someday. She did acknowledge the job takes a lot of patience and an ability to multitask. 

“The people we deal with are usually not calling to ask how our day is. They’re calling because they have something wrong. And what may not be an emergency to us, it is an emergency to them, and we still have to treat it as such,” Morris explained. “I like working nights, where the call volume is sometimes a little lower, but the severity of the calls can be more elevated.”

The ladies admitted there are a few “regulars,” who dial 911 just to get something off their chest or complain about the witches coming in through the water pipes. They treat each call with kindness and respect, knowing their attitude could save lives. 

Morris keeps busy during the slow times during the night by working on other duties – she is also the TAC – Terminal Agency Coordinator. 

They do have a little activity drawer, with a few board games and other things to help pass the time. Sometimes there is administrative work, sometimes there is downtime. A lot can happen on a straight 12-hour shift without much time for breaks. 

Jessi Cunningham came in to continue her training with Morris on the night shift. Cunningham began the job only in January, looking to get some hands-on experience in the world of law enforcement as the works on her criminal justice major. 

A Grapeland High School graduate from 2022, Cunningham is thinking about eventually settling into working with child protective services after she finishes college, but admitted she is enjoying her time as a dispatcher. 

“I thought we would just dispatch for the sheriff’s office and the police department,” Cunningham said. “I didn’t know they did all the fire departments and the other agencies. They put me on night shift, but I like it. I feel like there’s a lot of crazy stuff that happens at night. You get put in different situations and learn how to handle them.”

The stressful job is made to look easier as the phones ring and other work is done to keep officers informed. The long shifts sometimes require more planning, since you can’t just run home for lunch. 

The dispatchers would be more than grateful for any donations of food or other small kindnesses from the community. Shift changes are always at 6 a.m. or 6 p.m. and The Messenger is confident the good people of the county will show their gratitude to this hearty bunch of dispatchers, making sure the lights are on and the phone is answered, whenever we need them. 

With their window-less office and many monitors – the dispatchers have their own lingo, codes and rules. They are much like the crew of a submarine, isolated but glad to do the job. 

Any donations for them during their special week can be taken by the Houston County Sheriff’s Office at 700 Fourth Street in Crockett.

Greg Ritchie can be reached at [email protected]

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