911 dispatcher helps others in need

by Sonja J. Keith

As a 911 dispatcher, Nancy Fleming is committed to helping others in the midst of despair.

“When there is chaos, I try to bring some order back in,” said Nancy, who has worked for six years as a 911 dispatcher at the Morrilton Police Department. “When bad things happen, someone needs to be there”

Nancy traces her interest in the medical field to an experience she had as a child when she was injured in an explosion and spent a lot of time in a hospital. She was offered a nursing scholarship, but was “afraid of needles” and did not pursue a medical career. “Life happened” next, and a family and business followed.

Describing her husband and daughter as “accident prone,” Nancy decided to pursue EMT training to help her family. “At the urgent care center, they knew my husband and daughter by name,” she said with a smile.

“I always wanted to be a 911 dispatcher. When the job came open, I jumped at it. I never regretted it. I’ve always liked helping others.”

After she got the job, her training as a dispatcher was quickly put to the test. On the second day of training a call came in, and she recognized the address that popped up – it was her home. Her husband, Thane, had been critically injured in a motorcycle mishap at their 258-acre ranch in the Old Hickory community near Hattieville.

“My supervisor had just said the worse call you can get is one from someone you know or someone you love.”

Thane told his wife that his head, neck and back were injured and “it’s really bad.” Nancy’s training kicked in, and she began dispatching the help he needed. “My husband almost died,” she said. “He’s back 100 percent. God has been so good to us.”

Nancy responds to every call with the same professionalism and sense of urgency as if it were a family member. “Every call is important. It doesn’t have to be life and death,” she said. “Most are not life and death, but if it’s important enough to call, it is important to not take it lightly.”

The activity on each shift is different as are each call, according to Nancy. There are times, especially during severe weather, when she will field several calls. “There are some nights the 911 line doesn’t ring, but that’s rare.”

There are many challenges being a 911 dispatcher. “You have to know what questions to ask,” Nancy said. She explained that when a caller makes a call from a landline that the address of the call shows up on a computer. When a call is made from a cell phone, a general area may be indicated, but an exact location is not, making it difficult to know where to send help.

Sometimes the caller is scared or hysterical, which makes it even more difficult to piece the puzzle together. “You reassure them while trying to pick out bits and pieces of what they need.”

For Nancy, satisfaction comes in knowing that she made a difference in someone’s life. “When you go home and know you helped somebody, even if it was just getting them on the ambulance alive, it’s a good day.”

Nancy has high marks for those involved in emergency services in Conway County – from other dispatchers to firefighters, law enforcement and medical personnel. “I work with so many heroes. They are wonderful people,” she said. “It is an honor to serve the people of Conway County.”

Among the most difficult calls Nancy has worked was a drowning incident where three children died. “That was the worse one. Any time you have children involved, it’s hard.”

When a difficult incident happens, Nancy focuses on the task at hand – collecting as much information as possible from the caller and dispatching emergency personnel to the scene. “You just do what you have to do. Afterward, that’s your time to cry.”

Nancy does her best to leave work at work, but when she has those sad moments, she works through them with her faith and in worship at Oakland Heights Assembly of God in Russellville. “My way to debrief is to go to church. I get my strength from God.”

Nancy is appreciative of her blessings and the opportunity to help others. “God doesn’t set us on the earth to take up space and just breathe the air. We all have a talent,” she said. “I thank Him. I do know I love it.”