When you have an emergency, someone has to be there to answer your 911 call, no matter the hour. For 911 dispatchers, that means early morning hours and long days. For 12 hours a day Debbie Meshaw sits in the New Hanover County 911 Center ready to answer your call. She, like at least a dozen other dispatchers, has to be at work before 7:00 a.m. to relieve the overnight crew. “We're here until about 6:45 in the evening, so it's from 5:15 until 7:30 – 7:45 at night before we get home,” said Meshaw. Although they work for twelve hours, Debbie does not mind the schedule. Dispatchers work two days on, two days off; then three days on, three days off. To help get through the long days they go through cup after cup of coffee, averaging between four and five pots a day. But that is not the only way they get energized. Dispatcher Pamela Graham said, “The adrenaline keeps flowing and we keep moving.” 911 dispatchers are usually the first responders on the scene. Though they are not there in person, they are there on the phone often serving as a lifeline to someone in need. “Stressful. It is very rewarding, but very stressful. We're very busy, we're a very busy center, and we take a lot of calls,” said Meshaw. How many calls? The center took about 500,000 calls last year. Telecommunication Supervisor Brenda Hewlett said, “Some days its quiet, some days its not. We never know when that call will come in for assistance.” For Pamela Graham, being there offering that assistance, is rewarding. So much so, she drives from Bladen County to get there. “The satisfaction you get from the job, the overwhelming incidents that go on - but I just fell in love with it anyway.” And that is one of the main reasons the hours and schedule are worth it. Of course, there is a whole new crew of 911 dispatchers who start their day at 7:00 p.m. and work until this crew relieves them just before 7:00 a.m.
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