The first line of communication — dispatchers discuss duties

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Each year, the second week of April is dedicated to the men and women who serve as public safety telecommunicators, those who the public know as dispatchers.

April 13 through 19 marks National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week.

Tina Arellin of the New Mexico State Police and Lupe Tarango of the Socorro Police Department are two of the total 18 dispatchers in the Socorro area.

Tina Arellin in Escondida said the eight dispatchers coordinate state police calls for the entire Socorro District.

The Socorro District encompasses three of the state's largest counties —Socorro, Sierra and Catron — accounting for approximately 28,000 square miles.

"Ours is one of the largest districts in the state," Arrelin said.

She said the dispatchers more than just 911 calls

"We coordinate calls from the State Police in Truth or Consequences, Quemado and here in Escondida," Arrelin said.

Although the Socorro Police Department has the primary local 911 center, State Police dispatch coordinates with all agencies in the county.

"We take 911 calls for the Socorro County Sheriff's Department and Magdalena Marshal's office," she said. "But it's more than that. We coordinate with PHI air medical helicopters, check validity of warrants for officers when they radio in, coordinate sex offender lists, relay traffic information and more."

The communications supervisor for the state police is John Gonzales. The other voices on the line, besides Arellin, belong to Emma Valles, Marsha Robey, Kelly Hampton, Katheryn Corey, Jo Ray Vaiza and Cheryld Mesa.

"We have to be certified in communication at the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy," Arellin said. "In three weeks of training, you learn how to handle all types of calls, including hostile callers. You also learn the NCIC system and how to handle stress."

After certification, operators must maintain training.

"It's an extended 20-hour training every two years," Arellin said.

Arellin said as a dispatcher, every day is a different experience.

"You handle so many different types of calls — everything from search and rescue to highway fatalities," she said.

Lupe Tarango has put in eight years and is one of 10 dispatchers at the Socorro dispatch center, which is the first to receive all 911 calls. Dispatch supervisor at the Socorro Police Department is Grace Castillo.

"All calls from land lines and cell phones come to our dispatchers," Tarango said. "This includes medical and fire calls in the city and county."

Although some cell phone 911 calls from farther out in the county are occasionally sent to the Silver City dispatchers, Tarango said they are promptly transferred to Socorro.

"It doesn't take longer than a minute and a half, if that long," he said.

The reason for this delay, he explained, is dependent on which tower picks up the call.

Depending on the incident, 911 operators will transfer calls to the appropriate agency, whether it be state police, EMS, Socorro Fire Department or any of the county's volunteer fire departments, Tarango said. This includes calls from Magdalena and Alamo too.

"(Working in dispatch) keeps you on your toes. Every single day is different and sometimes you're getting four or five calls at one time, all different," Tarango said.

Some of the biggest problems in the job, he said, are calls that are not emergencies.

"Believe it or not, we get calls coming in from kids playing with deactivated cell phones. Even though they are deactivated, the 911 calls still go through."

Other superfluous calls include people asking for directions, asking for other telephone numbers and asking how to fix things, Tarango said.

Socorro dispatchers are Mike Wright, Nicole Montoya, Ray Peralta, Valerie Lesperance, Natalie Armijo and Rhonda Malone.

"When we get a call for an incident there's a voice on the line we know," State Police Lt. Matthew Romero said. "It all starts with the dispatcher."