Emergency or mundane, there’s one constant to every telephone call made to the Purcell Police Department – a human on the other end of the line.
Dispatchers answer all calls to the department’s main number, as well as 911 for nine fire departments, Wadleys EMS and all of McClain County except Newcastle and Blanchard.
Someone is always on duty – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is a responsibility not taken lightly in a job not everyone can handle.
For Nancy Winsett and Heather Hill, it is truly a calling.
Together, the two dispatchers have 30 years experience. They’ve heard and seen it all.
Winsett is the senior and marked 20 years on the job January 1.
She is also the dispatch supervisor and is charged with ensuring every shift is filled by at least two dispatchers.
Three per shift is preferable, but not always possible. There are currently nine dispatchers, including three who just work part-time.
The staffing is down two dispatchers.
Winsett’s father was career Air Force. After he retired, the family settled in Del City. She eventually moved to the Noble area.
She applied for a dispatch opening on the department because “someone thought I would be good at this.”
“I think it just gets in your blood,” Winsett said. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.
“It’s not an 8-hour job. They pay us to be ready when something happens.”
And happen things do – even in a place as relatively quiet as Purcell.
“It’s different every day,” Hill said.
Some calls hit close to home.
Hill was on duty with a trainee in 2018 when an emergency call came in. A child was feared drowned in a swimming pool mishap.
Three police officers were later given citations for their life-saving efforts.
There was no public acknowledgment of Hill’s role in the event. And that is OK.
With two kids of her own, Hill said calls like those “hit home with you.”
To cope, “I go home and hug my kids,” Hill said. “I wouldn’t want to be on the other end of the line.”
Winsett said there’s no pass or fail to being a dispatcher.
“It sticks or it doesn’t,” she explained.
Training depends on how quickly a new hire learns the job.
It can take up to six months and then the person, on probation for a year, always works with a senior dispatcher.
Hill knew within six months of completing training that dispatching was work she wanted to do.
She still remembers her first stressful call – a shooting and subsequent manhunt at Dibble on Thanksgiving.
“You find out in the moment if this is something you can do. You stay calm in the moment and have your minute after everything’s done,” she said.
The moment can be anything, including someone ending their life by suicide.
It is a stressful job, Winsett agreed.
“I don’t think people understand all the pressure,” she said. “Everybody here cares. The girls cry. I love this job, but it is very stressful.”
There are calls that aren’t emergencies.
Some are from children who have been given old cell phones to play games on. The thing is even a non-working cell phone is capable of calling 911 when the battery is charged.
And there are a fair number of “butt dialed” calls too.
When call volume is low, there is always training to be done.
Both dispatchers could have burned out by now or taken their talents to higher-paying jobs with larger departments or state agencies.
Instead they’ve come to view Purcell Police Department as family.
“It feels like home away from home,” Winsett said. “We want all the emergency services people to get home safe.”