Interim Summit County 911 Center director reflects on resiliency in her high-stress job

Dispatch Training Supervisor Trina Dummer will step into the role of interim director of the Summit County 911 Center after Director Jerry Del Valle's last day on Aug. 12. Dummer reflected on how she's continued to serve the community in a high stress role for the past 15 years.
Luke Vidic/Summit Daily News

Dispatcher Trina Dummer will step in as interim director of the Summit County 911 Center as departing Director Jerry Del Valle serves his last day, Aug. 12.

A former seasonal roustabout and wannabe boat captain turned Summit County local, Dummer has seen many sides of Summit County and its residents — the good, the mundane and the unsettling. Dummer recounted her 15 years of service at the dispatch center and how she wakes up every morning for a career few last long in.

Staffing issues have plagued the dispatch center and the industry as a whole for years. Dispatchers work 10 hour shifts in a high-stress environment with lots of overtime and, some days, little time for breaks, Del Valle said. Dummer, a training supervisor, said few dispatchers make it past the two-year mark.

The stress dealing with daily crises plays a role in that, Dummer said. “People often call us — and they’re frustrated and they’re angry and they’re worked up. They might be in mental crisis. They’re having the worst day,” Dummer said, “and we’re on the receiving end of that.”

Yet Dummer has worked with the center for a decade and a half, and she believes resiliency can be learned. It begins with a sense of purpose — a reason why she and other dispatchers wake up every day to serve their community. Dummer said she sees in herself and other dispatchers a desire to give back to the community they love and fight to live in. Many local applicants to the dispatch center share the same resume and experiences: holding three jobs and going through the housing turmoil, all because they are willing to fight to stay in the community they love, she said.

“When people are willing to do that, that says so much about their emotional connection to the community in which we live and we serve,” Dummer said.

Dummer has done her fair share of seasonal work. Both during and shortly after college, she worked in national parks during the summer. When she moved to Summit County in 2004, she did so as a seasonal worker. She drove for Colorado Mountain Express in the winter while she spent her summers in Alaska. In the great white north, she drove tour buses for cruise lines. Surrounded by boats in Alaska, she briefly considered the possibility of becoming a boat captain.

“My calling is to be a boat captain,” she told herself. “So I got a job as a deckhand on a kayak expedition — like a super small cruise boat — and then I realized after eight months at sea that was just not for me either.”

After her escapade into life on the water, Dummer returned to Summit County and all its natural beauty, but this time she had a desire to escape the seasonal hustle and put down roots.

“I got tired of trying to find a new job every season, and I really wanted to find something full time, year round, with benefits that paid well and that I could work overtime if I wanted to,” she said. She loved the trails and trees and mountains surrounding the county and wanted to stick around and give back. More than a decade later, her love for the county remains, as does her desire to serve it, she said.

While purpose can guide a dispatcher, Dummer also encourages her peers to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. In a high-stress environment where dispatchers are exposed to the “secondary traumatic stress” of daily tragedies, it’s important to avoid thoughts of inadequacy, Dummer said.

“Not every CPR call is a save and this is where resiliency comes into play,” Dummer said. When those moments come, it’s easy to let negative thoughts invade, she said. But so long as the dispatcher did all they could, she always encourages them to pat themselves on the back.

“I will often ask my trainee at the end of our shift together what they feel they did well, with the hope they will walk out the door and hold that thought close to them,” she said.

The emotional release at the end of the day can be extremely important for dispatchers since they’re expected to do the opposite during the work day. Dispatchers follow scripted questions and are asked to suppress emotions when on the line.

“This is a huge contribution to burnout — is that aspect alone, is that suppression,” Dummer said.

Some other dispatch centers have “feelings rules” to enforce even-keeled professionalism, Dummer said. Summit Dispatch Center has no such rules, but the same professionalism is implied, Dummer said.

Dummer has practiced self-care routines through her 15 years of service. Her family, her dog and the natural beauty she moved here for have all played a role, she said, and they’re all part of what keep her going.

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