ALLEGAN COUNTY (WZZM) -- If you ever wonder what it's like to be a 9-1-1 dispatcher, handling dozens of emergencies every day, now you have the chance to find out thanks to Allegan County dispatcher, Ricardo Martinez.
Martinez had a blog devoted to chronicling his life at work. It was a way to process some of his thoughts and feelings about an often stressful job. He soon realized his world is a bit of a mystery to many of us and started using a mic to shed some light.
"Because we don't always have anyone to talk about it or to understand or anything. So, I wanted to put that information out there to be therapeutic for myself but also so other people could understand what we do here in dispatch and maybe educate the public at the same time," he said.
Martinez launched "Within the Trenches," an internet radio show, in December of 2012 to do just that.
Most people never have to call 9-1-1 in their lifetimes, but those who do are grateful when the dispatcher picks up the phone line.
"We show up every single day knowing we are going to work 12 hours overnight. I don't see my husband sometimes for 3 or 4 days at a time because he works first shift," said co-host Whitney Wisner, also an Allegan County dispatcher. "I gladly take that trip because I know I might be that voice on the other line for a screaming mother or an abused wife."
Wisner says, on average, a 9-1-1 call lasts about 8 to 12 minutes. That is a short period of time but enough for the dispatchers to become invested in their caller's situations.
"We can't see what is going on but you hear stuff and a spouse is feeling helpless because a spouse is deceased next to them. You say 'I want you to grab your animals and put them away and I want you to turn your lights on.' You just develop this little bit of pathway just to keep them moving until help gets there because as long as they are moving, whether it is tragic or really intense, as long as your caller is doing something they are helping," said Wisner.
She and Martinez share stories like that during the the show. The calls they talk about vary from those that are a matter of life and death to those a little less serious..
"I know that a lot of people think the majority of phone calls we get are true 9-1-1 emergencies, but really we get calls that can be really funny. I had a call once where there was an argument because someone was throwing out their spam," said Martinez. "Or we get calls where we actually do get calls where cats are stuck in a tree and they want us to go and help them. Sometimes people call 9-1-1 for fireworks or parade times. It is a lot of stuff like that people would be surprised at."
"It is exciting to give our story but it is also nerve wracking," said Wisner. "Like Ricardo said you don't ever want the public to think, 'well here they go. They are going to tell all these aweful stories. People call in a time of crisis and now they are going to put it on the web for everyone to hear.' That has never been our idea. Never. Never. Never."
The duo describe the show as "info-tainment" but says one of the biggest goals is to educate the public about things they may have never thought of.
"For example, I want people to know why I'm putting them on hold said Martinez. "They will be calling in with a medical, they are having a heart attack, but we have to put them on hold in order to page out the ambulance. But people don't always understand that."
Wisner agrees the public can benefit from seeing things from a dispatchers perspective.
"I want the public to hear all of that and know when we ask you a question there is just a laundry list of reasons behind it. We just really need that cooperation no matter what you are doing and these stories give people that insight to think 'whoa, that makes sense now.'
Martinez and Wisner say as much as the show helps the public, it helps them more. It has been therapeutic for the dispatchers who rarely get closure after a call.
"That is probably the worst part of it, we don't get that closure," said Martinez. "So us being able to talk this out and have people come on and tell their stories, it really helps. For example it could be a medical where there is an infant who is going through seizures or multiple seizures or something and it sounds really bad. The ambulance is going to the hospital priority one, which is lights and sirens as fast as they can go to the hospital, and we never know what happens. But we go right to the next call."
'Within the Trenches' is a sort of reality radio but about real issues that matter.
"You go home feeling not satisfied but accomplished like I was really able to do what the citizens of Allegan expected of me today," said Wisner.
Martinez hopes to open the show up to other dispatchers and dispatch centers across the country. You can hear the episodes on the radio show website.