WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – “I have taken a wide variety of calls — anything from ‘I cut my finger, it’s bleeding,’ to a shooting or a cutting or giving CPR,” said Sedgwick County dispatcher Mitchell Garner.
Garner, 59, started with Sedgwick County Emergency Services in 1987, but his work as a dispatcher had already commenced almost a decade prior.
“I went in and paid a traffic ticket in Valley Center and the lady who ran the dispatch center said, ‘have you ever thought about being a dispatcher?'” Garner recalled. “I was like, ‘what’s that?’ She said, ‘how old are you?’ I said, ’17’. She said, ‘come back and see me when you are 18.”
Garner did just that. He started as a dispatcher with the City of Valley Center in 1979.
“It’s been a whirlwind, I have seen us go from archaic times from us putting things on cards and writing everything down to sophisticated computer systems and radios,” Garner said.
An estimated 240 million calls are made to 9-1-1 in the United States each year, according to the National Emergency Association Number. However, Garner said it’s extremely unlikely for the caller and the dispatcher to ever meet.
“You have to remember even the people we support in the field, a lot of us don’t even know what we look like,” he said.
Despite never meeting in person, Garner takes each call as if a family member of his own is the one in need of help.
“I try to be empathetic enough to understand what they are going through and try to work them through that situation,” Garner said. “Part of what helps us is our training, we have an excellent peer support team that we have internally and we help each other out.”
Garner was a key member in bringing the peer support group to Sedgwick County. “When I first started, peer support wasn’t a thing,” he said. “If you took a bad call, somebody relived you — you went down the hall, you washed your hands, and came back to work.”
Now, he and his coworkers have real conversations about the calls they handle, how those calls impact them, and how to cope.
Garner is quick to add that no two calls are ever quite the same, he said some are heartbreaking while others don’t fall under any specific category.
“One of the funniest calls I have ever taken was a lady wanting to come out and kill a spider that was in her backyard,” he laughed. “I sent a compliance person out and they were there for about ten minutes and left.”
No matter the call, Garner said he is thankful he has the ability to help someone when they need it most. “There was a time that I got stuck for overtime for like the third time in a week and was kind of grumbling and I picked up the phone and I saved the life and it made me really think about why I was here,” Garner said. “You know, that person may have had a delayed response and it may not have turned out the same.”
After more than 40 years in emergency services, Garner said he plans to retire by spring 2021. KSN asked him what he plans to do next. “I am actually trying to become a rural mail carrier,” he said.