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A Brief But Spectacular take on being a 911 dispatcher during COVID-19

Throughout the pandemic, the NewsHour has highlighted courageous front-line workers who are keeping the country running in the face of unprecedented hardship. Bridget Rhodes is one of these essential workers, a 911 dispatcher in Portland, Oregon, who has offered a calm voice to many callers suffering with COVID-19. Rhodes offers her Brief But Spectacular take on her critical role.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Throughout the pandemic, we have been highlighting courageous front-line workers who have kept this country running.

    In tonight's Brief But Spectacular, we hear from Bridget Rhodes, who works as a 911 dispatcher in Portland, Oregon. She's been the calm voice on the other end of the line for many suffering with COVID-19.

  • Bridget Rhodes:

    I live in Portland, Oregon. And I'm a 911 dispatcher.

  • 911 Dispatcher:

    Nine-one-one. Where's your emergency?

  • Bridget Rhodes:

    We dispatch police officers, firefighters, paramedics.

  • 911 Dispatcher:

    What's the address?

  • Bridget Rhodes:

    We walk people through CPR. We deliver babies.

  • 911 Dispatcher:

    Is she having contractions?

  • Bridget Rhodes:

    Basically, anything you can think of that needs a police response or a fire medical response, we're there.

    We're considered essential employees, mainly because, without us, no one's going to necessarily receive the help that they need. You can't just call an officer on the phone or a firefighter on the phone or an ambulance to come and get you. You have to go through us.

    I came into the 911 dispatching by accident. But it's the best accident that I probably had career-wise. I wouldn't change this career for anything.

    My favorite thing that I enjoy about the job is helping people, from saving lives to maybe assisting an elderly person that just isn't aware of what to do right now. Especially during this COVID-19 virus, we get a lot of resource referral calls.

    So, just being able to help the community as best as I can, even though I'm just on the phone.

    When you have somebody that's calling in and frantic, we go through a lot of training where you have specific questions that you need to ask. And I think just having a flow and being confident, I think that helps direct the caller on where we want them to be and help bring them down a level to be able to answer those questions for scene safety.

    Just being able to be that calming voice on the other end of the line for not only callers, but your officers or your firefighters that might be in an intense situation.

    The flu-like symptoms is probably the number one type of call medically that we're getting right now for the shortness of breath. When we, as first responders or call-takers, probably the worst part is talking to that one person who thinks that they're feeling OK, and you're talking to them on the phone, and they're describing the symptoms that they have.

    And two minutes during that phone call, you realize that they passed while on the phone with you. You just try to be there for somebody if you realize that they might not make it by the time your responders get there, and you just try to stay there with them and calm them.

    If they want to talk to you, talk back. Communicate with them until they're ready to not talk to you anymore.

    I have told people in the past that their life matters.

    My name is Bridget Rhodes and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on being a 911 dispatcher.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And to Bridget Rhodes and all the 911 dispatchers, we owe you our thanks.

    And you can find all of our Brief But Spectacular segments online at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.

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