Meet the woman who has been taking 911 calls in B.C. for 30 years

·3 min read
Sue Mitchell started her career as a 911 dispatcher in 1991 and celebrated 30 years on the job this week, saying she feels lucky to have been on the receiving end for people in need during those three decades. (twitter.com/EComm911_info - image credit)
Sue Mitchell started her career as a 911 dispatcher in 1991 and celebrated 30 years on the job this week, saying she feels lucky to have been on the receiving end for people in need during those three decades. (twitter.com/EComm911_info - image credit)

When Sue Mitchell first started working dispatch for the Vancouver Police Department in the '90s, a lot of calls came from pay phones and she would sometimes have to run across the room, grab a massive book that looked like an encyclopedia, and run back to her desk to look up where the phone — and distressed caller — were located.

Times have changed, and so has technology, but what has stayed the same for Mitchell, who marked 30 years of working the phones helping people in need this week, is her unwavering love for what she does.

Intrigued by classes her father, who was in the military, was taking in criminology when she was a kid, Mitchell later graduated from Simon Fraser University with a degree in the subject herself and went to work for VPD in 1991.

"It's like being recognized for something you enjoy doing every day," said Mitchell, speaking about her three-decade career on CBC's On The Coast Friday.

Tough calls

She has definitely taken some tough calls over the years though.

One of those, said Mitchell, was in 2011 when a riot broke out in Vancouver after the Stanley Cup final and she took a call from a man afraid for the safety of his staff in an office in the downtown core.

"That was a big one for me," said Mitchell, who can still remember the anguish in the man's voice.

Sue Mitchell began working as a police dispatcher in 1991 and now works for E-Comm, the first point of contact for 911 callers in 25 regional districts in British Columbia.
Sue Mitchell began working as a police dispatcher in 1991 and now works for E-Comm, the first point of contact for 911 callers in 25 regional districts in British Columbia. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Another call that will forever stick with Mitchell came when she was only a couple of years on the job and there was a rash of home invasions targeting elderly people in the Metro Vancouver area at the time.

"You have those kind of calls that just make you a little bit more sensitive," she said about speaking to people after they had been victimized.

She said that early experience made her strive to be "super compassionate" with seniors throughout her entire career.

Busy is good

And it has not been a career without challenges.

Mitchell said when she started, there would sometimes be downtime for dispatchers in the middle of the night but that is never the case now.

She also said the types of calls have changed. Twenty or 30 years ago, people were more likely to try to deal with things on their own and then call 911. It's a change for the better because it shows people have more trust in the system now, she says.

To celebrate her anniversary, Mitchell said colleagues decorated her desk and went out of their way to stay late on shift so they could thank her for her service.

"It just made my heart swell," said Mitchell.

E-Comm is the first point of contact for 911 callers in 25 regional districts in British Columbia, handling over 1.8 million calls a year.

It operates the largest multi‐jurisdictional, tri‐service radio network in the province used by police, fire and ambulance personnel throughout Metro Vancouver and parts of the Fraser Valley.