A person who enjoys problem solving, Anna Sharp, 21, gets to do it every day for her job, but not in the way she expected.
Sharp, who lives in Riley, is a dispatcher for the Riley County Police Department. Sharp, who has worked there since March of 2012, thought she wanted to problem-solve with numbers. Before she started taking emergency calls, she studied accounting for two years at Kansas State University.
“I hated it,” she said.
Sharp started looking for jobs based on appeal and chose to apply for a dispatching job, one reason being that she thought there wouldn’t be number crunching involved.
“It was still something I would have to do problem-solving with like I did in accounting but with story problems, which I enjoyed more,” Sharp said.
As an emergency dispatcher, Sharp takes calls from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., three or four days a week. But a predictable schedule doesn’t mean predictable work.
“There’s no typical shift,” Sharp said. “We could come in at 6 o’ clock and have a roll-over accident or we could come in at 6 o’ clock and not get a call until 10 o’ clock ... There’s no way to tell what we’re going to get when we come in.”
Sharp takes a range of calls from traffic stops and arrest warrants, to life-threatening situations. After a call comes in, Sharp has to collect pertinent information from the caller and then dispatch police officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians.
Even if the caller is hysterical, part of Sharp’s job is to remain calm throughout the call, not only to ease the caller in an emergency situation, but to reduce stress for emergency personnel.
“The calm that comes over people over the phone, it’s for officers, too,” Riley County Police Officer Matthew Droge said.
“When you get [to an emergency situation] and on speakerphone you hear one of your friends talking, telling somebody how to do CPR or something, immediately it’s like having your friend there with you dealing with it as well and you know you’re not the only person there,” he said. “It’s a good feeling to know there’s a bunch of people back there that have your back.”
Droge said if an officer hasn’t answered his or her radio in awhile, dispatchers will call and check.
“They’re very good about watching out for people,” Droge said. Because of this, Droge said the officers try to let the dispatchers know how much they’re appreciated, especially since dispatchers are emergency middlemen.
Having the ability to be calm in emergencies has helped Sharp in her life outside of work. She raises her 2-year-old son, Ryan Amdur, and said her job has made her more observant and calm when she’s out with him.
“I feel like I’m a lot calmer with him than I would have been if I was just a young mom that didn’t see the horrible in people,” Sharp said. “When he turns into a terror and starts throwing a 2-year-old temper tantrum, I don’t really worry about it that much because I know there are 15-year-olds that are doing much worse things ... I’m pretty confident he’ll be OK.”
Not only has her work affected Sharp’s parenting, her parenting has an impact on her work. She said sometimes the biggest challenge on the phone is letting a call go and “hoping for the best,” especially if a child calls 911.
Despite the emotional challenges, Sharp said the work is both exciting and gratifying.
“It’s nice to hear a calmed voice by the end of the call when they realize that we’ll really be there to help them soon,” she said.