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Waterbury 911 dispatchers answer the call for Naugatuck Valley, say many more difficult to hear since start of pandemic

WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — The largest regional 911 call center in Connecticut is in Waterbury. Those who man the phones answer tens-of-thousands of emergency calls a year, and with the COVID-19 pandemic, they are answering a new kind of call.

If there’s a 911 emergency in The Naugatuck Valley, the dispatchers at The Northwest Connecticut Public Safety Communication Center, Inc. are handling it and getting the emergency crews out to aid whoever’s in trouble.

And during the pandemic they’ve answered the call, many of them answering 100,000 a year. With the COVID-19 crisis, the 911 dispatchers say many of those calls are difficult to hear.

“Like when you hear somebody on the line and they are struggling to breathe,” said 911 operator, Dawn Bush. “The job is tough anyway. The pandemic just added a whole new layer of importance.”

They also have to send first responders to where the trouble is. But, another layer of importance now is trying to make sure — as best they can — that they’re not sending the emergency crews straight into a potential COVID situation.

“We ask questions — screening questions — of every person that’s going to meet with our responders to see if they have any COVID symptoms to try and keep them safe,” Dawn said.

Then, there are the other calls. Dawn dealt with an emotional and tense situation Tuesday morning when a frantic mother called 911 because her baby was struggling to breathe.

“I had to talk the mom through CPR over the phone,” she said. “It’s hard not knowing whether the baby’s going to be ok or not,” she said. “We don’t get closure here so we just send them on with the help that they need. But, as a mom, the children ones [calls] are particularly tough for me.”

The Northwest Connecticut Public Safety Communication Center Inc. serves more than a dozen cities and towns, including Waterbury, Middlebury, Ansonia, Naugatuck, Derby, Wolcott, Oxford, Beacon Falls, and Bethany.

This week, the country is saluting the jobs these dispatchers do. It’s National Public Safety Telecommunicator Week. As part of the effort to salute their own 911 operators, management at Northwest Connecticut Public Safety Communication Center cooked breakfast and lunch for them.

We asked Dawn about the national recognition of the jobs they do.

“Our thank you is knowing that we’ve helped the next person that calls. And the next person and the next person,” she said. “I just love helping people.”