Behind the 911 dispatchers

CENTRAL GLENDALE — Fire Communication Supervisor Jessica Latta doesn’t consider dispatching a job. She says she was born to do it. Latta and 15 other dispatchers spend most days behind several computer monitors in the Verdugo Communications Center answering emergency calls from residents of a dozen cities.

“To me, it’s second nature now,” Latta said. “I just really love the job. I don’t seen any negatives to it at all.”

She tries not to take her work home with her, but some gruesome calls, such as suicides, get to her, Latta said.

“I really don’t remember calls because we never hear the end result,” Latta said. “We are on the phone with the person for less than five minutes. We never get to hear what happens to them.”

But during those five minutes, it’s up to her to help the caller with the tools that she has available in the center. Latta has seen the high-tech center change and grow throughout her years working there.

Glendale, Burbank and Pasadena fire departments established the communication center 30 years ago to combine resources, increase response capabilities and save money, Pasadena Fire Chief Dennis Downs said.

In 1978, Burbank Fire Chief Curtis Reynolds, Glendale Fire Chief Allan Stone and Pasadena Fire Chief James Shern created an executive committee — which still exists today — to oversee the center’s operations. A year later, the Verdugo Communication Center was formed.

The center, at 421 Oak St. as part of Fire Station 21, handles emergency radio communications for Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena, Alhambra, Arcadia, Monrovia, Monterey Park, San Gabriel, San Marino, Sierra Madre, South Pasadena and Montebello. The extensive communication system now has access to a network of 43 fire stations, and has dispatched more than 810,000 since it was established, fire officials said.

While most of the emergencies that flow through the center are medical calls, dispatchers are trained to handle high-stress incidents and help firefighters through challenging situations, said Glendale Battalion Chief Robert Doyle.

“They have this incredible instinct and know when to inject it and what we may miss,” he said.

Fire Dispatcher Sean O’Connor recently received a Fire Chief’s Commendation for his handling of a house fire call Aug. 3 in which Glendale firefighters Patrick Hambarchian and Kevin Ku were injured.

“Careful attention was paid, [and] he didn’t miss a beat,” Doyle said. “There is a risk for a dispatcher stepping into the middle of an incident with an incident commander like myself. You better be right or you are going to regret what I am doing. There’s a risk to that, and this guy took that risk and did the right thing.”

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