From pocket dials to emergencies: Yukon RCMP highlights work of 911 dispatchers

When Tammy Bouwman answers the phone, she never knows what to expect. It could be a pocket dial, or someone teetering between life and death. 

"We take the lighter side of the moments with the darker side of the moments," said the dispatcher with the Whitehorse RCMP.

To mark National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, the Yukon RCMP is recognizing telecommunications operators like Bouwman for their dedication and service. That celebration comes just a week after a national union accused the RCMP of wrongly excluding employees who handle emergency calls from wage increases.

"The calm, professional, reassuring employees who answer and dispatch 911 calls in the territory are a fundamental part of this organization," said chief superintendent Scott Sheppard. 

Bouwman says she's had a lot of training to help her stay calm and in control while handling serious emergencies.

"I've dealt with people who were in homes while people are kicking in their front doors and coming in with weapons. I've dealt with suicidal people who are basically just calling to tell you that this is the last person they'll be speaking with." 

She said part of dealing with work-related trauma is for the dispatcher to acknowledge their role. 

"In the end, you are limited with what you can accomplish from a phone line. Learn how to deal with that role and not accept more responsibility onto yourself than is possible or that is required."

2 pocket dials an hour

"If I can ask the public for one thing, it's please take your phone out of your pocket," said Bouwman. 

She said the RCMP receives at least one or two accidental dials per hour. These calls take a lot of time and energy to investigate because every call is treated as an emergency until it's known to be otherwise. 

"It is definitely a high portion of our workload. It's unfortunate because it's not always easy to track down these people to make sure they're OK."

Yukon communities gained easier access to emergency services last June, when basic 911 services were activated across the territory.