What it’s really like to be a 911 dispatcher in La Crosse

Most people know about the sacrifices police officers, firefighters and EMT’s make, but what about dispatchers?

Its National Public Safety Telecommunications week and we took a look at why dispatchers are often the unsung heroes of emergency service workers.

Mitch Tofstad has worked for La Crosse County Public Safety Communications for 14 years.

“We don’t get the glory. We’re here to help people,” Tofstad said.

He’s heard every call you can imagine.

“We’ve had shootings, we’ve had robberies, we’ve had assaults and fights,” Tofstad said.

Sometimes you feel helpless.

“Somebody calls with a bad domestic, or a fight or a shooting and they put the phone down– then at that point all you can do is start typing what you’re hearing and hopefully that helps the officers when they get there,” Tofstad said.

Other times you know you’ve made a difference.

“Busy job, it’s difficult. You’re doing crazy things all day long but it feels good to go home at the end of the day,” Tofstad said.

At this point almost nothing phases Tofstad.

“After a while it’s just a different variation of something you’ve already done,” Tofstad said.

But there’s one exception.

“I’m a dad. I have kids. Calls involving kids injured hurt, I might know that kid, I might know their parents.

That can be the tough part of the job,” Tofstad said.

He’s been on the line with friends and family members helping them through their darkest times and to this day many of them don’t know it was him.

“A lot of times those people don’t know it’s you. They know that I work at 911 but they don’t think that, that was Mitch,” Tofstad said.

Ken Damaschke, a supervisor with La Crosse County Public Safety Communications, said that burden is one of the hardest parts of being a dispatcher.

“I’ve spoken to people that I know, friends family and just try to be professional and do the best work you can, just like you would for anybody else. We’ve heard first breaths and we’ve heard last breaths and sometimes in the same day,” Damaschke said.

At the end of the day, they keep doing it because a friendly voice on the phone can make all the difference.

You’ve got to be good at multitasking and above all, stay calm.

“You’ve got to remember that you’re that person’s lifeline so anything that you can do to keep them calm until help gets there is really helpful,” Tofstad said.

La Crosse County Dispatchers are put through a six-to 12-month training program to prepare them for the stresses of the job.

The days with the most 911 calls last year were Riverfest, Oktoberfest and Nov. 9, because of a mixed freezing rain/snow storm.

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