Belmont 911: A vital part of the first response

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – The police and fire departments, along with the local EMS squads, provide the first line of defense in Belmont County, working to keep its citizens safe and secure.

But someone has to serve as the go-between for the county’s residents and its first responders.

That’s where the dedicated and capable staff from Belmont County 911 comes into play.

They too can be classified as heroes, much like the brave men and women who are detailed and honored in today’s ‘Heroes’ publication that you’ll find inside The Times Leader.

The operations center in St. Clairsville serves as the point of contact for the majority of county residents in their time of need.

Only the police department in St. Clairsville and police and fire departments in Martins Ferry handle their own dispatching.

The villages of Bridgeport and Barnesville handle daytime dispatching, but after that first shift is over, it’s up to the men and women at Belmont 911 to handle all incoming calls.

It’s a demanding job that isn’t for everyone.

911 Director Bryan Minder noted that the job has a high turnover rate.

Some dispatchers work 8-hour shifts, some 12.

But it’s not the hours that is the trouble.

It’s not the technical work either, having to multitask with multiple computer screens while talking on the phones, taking information and getting the right people out to respond to a call.

“You have to type and talk and hear the radio at the same time,” Minder said. “It’s a lot to keep track of at once.”

The dispatchers at the operation center, on most calls, are doing their best to help men and women who are most likely going through the most traumatic experience of their lives.

The moment that call comes in and the phone picks up, the dispatcher has to work quickly to assess what is going on, what help is needed and how quickly help can arrive on the scene.

“It takes its toll on some people and they can’t do it,” Minder admitted. “They can’t keep up.”

And during emergencies, dispatchers have to be ready to answer the call, just like their first responder counterparts out on the roads.

Minder recalled a time recently during the major flooding that hit the Neffs area outside of Bellaire.

“We had 10 people here, four consoles manned (in the call center) and one in the supervisor’s office,” Minder recalled. “We had two people at each console. One was working the radio, getting the calls out to the (responders) and the other was working the telephones.

“Our employees understand that sometimes we get busy and they are needed.”

Fortunately, better technology has helped ease the difficulty level of the job some.

Better mapping software, complete with aerial shots of the county, have made it easier for dispatchers to give first responders directions when responding to a call.

Minder credits the work of Belmont County GIS Director Don Pickenpaugh, who works to keep the department’s mapping current and gets aerial updates every three or four years.

In an emergency, time is critical and the quicker a squad vehicle, fire truck or police cruiser can get to a call location, the better.

The technology, combined with those operating all the fancy gadgets and equipment, is what makes Belmont County 911 an effective operations center.

Its dispatchers do their best in a quick, yet detailed manner to allow the first responders to hit the scene and do what they do best.