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911 dispatcher spends 21 years answering the call
Jeff Copeland helps people in all emergency situations
Hall County Emergency Dispatcher Supervisor Jeff Copeland screens and answers calls almost constantly during his shift.

SERVICE TO HALL: Every day average citizens serve Hall County in an important but often overlooked and underappreciated capacity. But once the service is slowed, delayed, canceled or even stopped, then complaints arise. This is the fourth in a series of stories examining the daily lives of the unnoticed workforce.

How to call 911 effectively

Stay calm

Know your location address and the number you are calling from

If you are calling from a cell phone, describe the location including landmarks

Answer the operator’s questions clearly

Follow all directions

Other helpful hints

Teach your children how to properly use 911

Make sure all household members know their address and phone number

Make sure your house number is clearly posted and visible from the street at night

Keep your address, phone number and directions to your house written down next to your home phone

If you are in need of law enforcement, medical or fire personnel but it is not an emergency call 770-536-8812 to reach dispatch on a lower priority than 911.

“Hall County 911, what is the address of your emergency?”

This is a phrase Jeff Copeland is all too familiar with. He should be, since he has said it himself thousands of times during a 21-year career as a Hall County emergency dispatcher, a job he finds challenging and rewarding.

“Once you pick up that phone, you never know what’s going to be on the other end,” he said. “But I like to help people, and that is the number one objective here.

“Sometimes I also enjoy the excitement of the calls that come in.”

From his supervisor’s desk, Copeland monitors seven different computer screens and answers calls ranging from the mundane to extreme emergencies. In any given 24-hour period, Hall County’s 911 dispatch receives an estimated 1,000 calls, including vehicle accidents, fires, medical emergencies and crimes such as assaults, robberies or domestic violence.

Despite the agency’s dedication to help those in need, inevitably some situations will end badly. Every dispatcher has a call he or she will never forget, Copeland admitted.

His own call came during the Christmas season 1994, when he was still a rookie dispatcher.

“I got a call that there was a child who was not breathing,” he said “Somebody fell on top of a child at a party and didn’t realize it, and the child didn’t make it by the time we got there.

“Calls involving kids always tug at you, and that one in particular has always stuck with me.”

If a call proves to be especially troubling, the county provides counseling services through their Employee Assistance Program.

Before he was a dispatcher, Copeland was a commercial truck driver. After a work-related accident left him with a broken neck, he was out of work for three years.

Copeland had relatives working in law enforcement and had always spent time listening to radio scanners as a hobby. Eventually he decided a career as a dispatcher would be rewarding and accommodating toward his injury.

“It’s not a job you just do for a paycheck,” he said. “It’s not a bad job, it’s just got to be something you like.”

Copeland works seven 12-hour shifts, from 6:45 a.m. to 6:45 p.m., every two weeks in addition to working on call and covering extra shifts when staffing is short-handed. He gets a 10-minute break every two hours, but no lunch breaks.

When a call comes in, dispatchers start with a set series of questions. First, they establish the location of the emergency and the phone number of the caller in case they get disconnected. Then they get a description of the emergency, send appropriate emergency personnel, get further information based on the situation and provide support and advice to the caller.

“Our goal is to have people en route to the emergency in two minutes or less from the time we answer the phone,” Copeland said. “Right now our average is a minute and 35 seconds.”

Every operator is certified to provide emergency medical advice and to relay the proper information to the EMT on the way to the emergency. They are also responsible for calls to police officers, something most operators take very seriously, Copeland said.

“We’re fortunate that we pretty much work with same officers everyday,” he said. “You can tell by the sound of their voice what they need.

“The biggest thing is that everybody that starts today goes home tonight the same way — not injured. That’s the rewarding thing.”