SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. —  Last week’s release of the 911 calls from Surfside illustrated the horror in South Florida when the condominium collapsed, killing dozens of people.

What You Need To Know

  • Work of dispatchers can weigh on their minds

  • They need to talk with the callers in difficult situations and send help

  • Leaving the experiences of their shifts at the office is tough for dispatchers

  • Knowing they help save lives makes dispatchers proud

For many people, 911 dispatchers are the first people they turn to for help.  Local 911 dispatchers in Seminole County say the mental toll the role takes is tough but the job itself is so important. 

“Every day is different,” said Beth Facello, assistant supervisor with the Seminole County Fire EMS Emergency Communications Center. “There’s no telling what type of call you’re going to get each time you pick up the phone.”

Facello has worked in Seminole County’s Fire and EMS emergency communications center for the past six years, taking calls from people on what’s often the worst day of their lives in situations that leave a deep impact on both the caller and dispatcher.

“I think it’s trying to leave what happens here inside and going home to be who you’re supposed to be at home,” Facello said. “I think also, the self-doubt comes in, too. You know, did we do everything we could have in the aspect of helping the citizens?”

“Some calls take a lot out of you and some don’t, you know some are very simple and then some stay with you to the point where you just want to do better,” said Akira Lee, a 911 dispatcher in training. 

“They are actually living that moment with that caller at the time the call is coming in,” said Suzanne DeFillips, senior program manager with the Seminole County Fire EMS Emergency Communications Center. 

Dispatchers have to work quickly, providing life-saving instructions to the caller while simultaneously sending crews to help, DeFillips said 

“In our world, seconds matter,” DeFillips said. 

But steady funding for 911 call centers in Florida is tough, especially as emergency services revenue from landline phones dry up.

“Also the State of Florida lowered those fees initially, down to 40 cents, which makes us one of the fourth-lowest in the country for receiving 911 fees, which support the infrastructure,” DeFillips said. 

While those fees fund needed upgrades to keep centers running smoothly, Facello said the human element of helping is what drives many dispatchers. As the unseen first responders, Facello said it’s life-saving work that she and others are proud to be a part of.

“Know that as soon as your phone call comes in, we are sending help,” Facello said.