January 8, 2011 – The True “First” Responders

Tony Portrey, Communications Technical Supervisor, Pima County Sheriff’s Department

Communications-composite-with-Comm-LogoIt was one of those “once in a lifetime” events during your career that you pray will never be repeated. Even more than 5 years later I remember that day like it was yesterday. The impact of the events of that day will forever be ingrained in the memory of those first-responders that were involved with the response efforts. The effects of the event and its immediate aftermath lingered for several months.

The world views the event as the day a U.S. Representative was shot and critically injured, and while she and her staff were the intended targets, there were several victims that lost their lives or were injured that day.

I could tell you about the 9 year old girl that lost her life on the day she finally got to realize one of her dreams of meeting a local Congresswoman, or of the heroic husband that lost his life protecting his wife, or even the U.S. District Court Judge that was well known to the local law enforcement community who went to the meet and greet event to see a friend and lost his life.

I could recount the heroic efforts of the local medical professionals whose efforts saved many lives that day. I could tell you about the lifesaving efforts of some of our agency’s commissioned staff that kept that little 9 year old girl alive long enough to give her family time with her before she succumbed to her injuries.

I could tell you about the lasting effects the incident and the response efforts had on our staff as the primary law enforcement agency, including the impact it had on our staffing in the dispatch center as several members of our staff decided this was not the career field for them.

To me a larger revelation is the community response to the events that have occurred since that day that not only recognizes those that suffered, lost their lives and responded to the incident but also the events that have inspired healing and remembrance of the victims. There were also several stories about “lessons learned” from the event that our local agencies were able to share with other agencies around the world to help them prevent a similar event, and failing that, prepare response plans for this type of situation.

But my focus today is to share with you my admiration for the true “first responders” in the Tucson area dispatch centers that handled the large volume of calls from victims, witnesses, family members, news-media outlets and outside public safety agencies with such a high degree of professionalism. Many of those call takers, dispatchers and supervisory staff were sought out for recognition on both the state and national levels, including my team that worked that initial event and were later awarded the inaugural APCO Public Safety Communications Team Award.

For me the knowledge that we had given the response to the incident our best effort is the greatest reward. It is one of the things that keeps me coming back to work every day with the same agency for over 32 years, and I am always impressed with the dedication that our staff gives to providing the highest level of customer service to our community.

To all of the first responders working in the dispatch and call centers out there, I admire you and thank you for all you do to serve your local communities. Keep up the great work!