Summit County citizens fire academy students see emergency response from insiders’ perspective |

Summit County citizens fire academy students see emergency response from insiders’ perspective

Breeana Laughlin
Breeana Laughlin/

A group of Summit locals gathered just outside of the door of the county communications center. They were about to get a glimpse inside the regional 911 dispatch center that provides emergency communications services to all of Summit County.

“Please remember to try keep your voices down,” said dispatch supervisor Lisa Hans. “Things can change very quickly from nothing happening to all of the phones going off at once or a dispatcher answering a call that is really intense.”

The Citizens Fire Academy participants filed into the room and came upon a plethora of computers set up in a circular configuration around the room. Three emergency dispatchers faced the multitude of screens — displaying a variety of maps, crime information, documents and diagrams — ready to respond to incoming calls.

“Phones are extremely challenging,” Hans said. “Dealing with people in crisis can be extremely complicated. You need to learn how to talk people down and give people medical instructions, including controlling bleeding and CPR.”

Summit County installed its first 911 dispatch center in 1976. Today, 13 employees staff the center taking turns working 10-hour shifts in an office that never closes.

“Christmas, New Year, Fourth of July — somebody’s got to be there to answer the phone,” Hans said.

The center includes eight incoming 911 lines and 17 administrative lines.

“All the 911 lines light up fairly often, because when there’s a big rollover accident happening or a wreck on Interstate 70, pretty much everyone calls 911,” Hans said. “It gets pretty nuts.”

A big part of dispatcher training concentrates on how to prioritize phone lines, quickly gather information from callers and determine the situation. Dispatcher must know which callers to put on hold and which ones to take.

“When you get the big 911 motor accident we might get all of these calls about that, but there could also be a call from someone at home suffering chest pain from a heart attack,” Hans said. “To be able to handle that takes a lot of skill.”

After gaining a newfound appreciation for emergency response from local dispatchers, academy participants made the short trip from the communications center back to the High Country Training Center — the firefighting hub.

Capt. Herb George from Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District’s Tower 4 and Lt. Eric Johnson from Lake Dillon Fire Protection District’s Engine 2 explained what’s involved in working on the engines and trucks.

“We have different missions when we roll out of the station, depending on what type of call it is, but usually we marry up and do what needs to be done to preserve life, stabilize the situation and protect property,” Johnson said.

While engine teams specialize in putting hose lines in operation to fight and contain fires, trucks companies use ground and aerial ladders to establish routes in and out of buildings to keep people out of harm’s way.

The firefighters from Tower 4 and Engine 2 gave academy participants a look inside their vehicles, revealing a “giant toolbox” of saws, axes, ropes, air packs, stretchers and wet suits and everything in between stored in compartments on all sides of the vehicles.

Battalion Chief Travis Davis also explained the role he plays in fighting fires in Summit County, giving academy participants a tour of the fire SUV and command functions.

The battalion chief is responsible for coordinating and calling in resources in emergency response situations.

“I’m a big believer in having but not needing, rather than need and not have,” he said.

Instead of a mobile toolbox, Davis’ SUV was more of an office on wheels. From here, he coordinates the logistics involved in fighting fires and other emergency situations.

“My job is to orchestrate and oversee the day to day operations of the engine companies,” he said.

Next week citizens’ academy students will learn how to use self-contained breathing apparatus and personal protective equipment, as well as basic burn building operations.

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