A career of emergency service

Published 10:22 am Monday, January 16, 2017

Shane Garrard remembers his first major call as a dispatcher.

“There was an armed robbery at the Trustmark Bank on Highway 61 North,” he said. “Their surveillance company monitoring the bank said Trustmark was being robbed at gunpoint. I had been working here a year, so I knew what to do, but it was the first call of that magnitude that I had then, and it was intense. We had deputies and police right on top of it, then a chase ensued and then they ended up catching the subject on Brabston Road in Bovina.”

Garrard has handled similar calls since then, as he has moved through the ranks at Vicksburg Warren 911, the county’s consolidated emergency communications system, to serve as its deputy director.

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A native of Vicksburg, he’s lived here most of his life, with the exception of a brief period in Fayetteville, Ark. And he’s always been involved with emergency services.

“I started off in the county fire service in 2005 while working at Ergon refining, I was involved with the plant’s fire brigade,” he said. “ I went to the (state) fire academy with Ergon. Firefighting has always interested me.”

When he returned from Arkansas, Garrard decided against returning to Ergon, and went to work with 911 as a dispatcher, later moving to lead dispatcher, supervisor and training coordinator, and then deputy director. He is also a captain with the Northeast Volunteer Fire Department, and involved in the county emergency medical service and county search and rescue.

Being a supervisor, he said, has its “ups and downs. It definitely has got its good days and its bad. It’s always bad when you have to stand up and discipline someone. It’s got a lot more pros than it’s got cons, and I really enjoy it; being able to relate with the police chief and the deputy chiefs, the sheriff, the lieutenants at the sheriffs office, the under sheriff, and the chiefs and the deputy chiefs at the Vicksburg Fire department.

“I deal with a lot of them in a daily basis, and I really like being able to sit with them and work through issues that may present themselves.”

Garrard’s daily routine as deputy director involves handling the dispatch operations on the floor and ensuring there are sufficient dispatchers for each shift, adding that means at least three dispatchers per shift.

He also oversees dispatcher training and the twice-weekly call evaluations for each of E911’s 17 dispatchers. “That’s the quality and control,” he said.

“I keep my radio on all the time when I’m at home and I’m listening. If I hear a dispatcher make a mistake, I’m quick to get on the phone with them and not let it be where I receive a phone call from somebody else (asking) why they did it. (If) I hear stuff, I don’t let it linger, I tend to it right then”.

Garrard and E911 director Chuck Tate also occasionally serve as dispatchers.

“I still have to keep up my certifications. We have to have 8 hours on the floor each month; if time permits, or we have inclement weather, Chuck and I are both certified dispatchers through the state, and we can plug in if need be.”

Sometimes, when he hears a call, he said, he’s tempted to head out, adding he fights the urge to go to the call. However, Garrard said, if it’s a major event, he and Tate are both at the scene.

“Chuck and I have been more visible in the public dealing with that, because we have supervisors in place here who are handling the operations here,” he said.

“If our assistance is needed, Chuck and I have the mentality that we want to be available to the public, and when we’re out there dealing with the other agencies on the scene, we’re still addressing radio communications; getting what they (emergency workers) need, whether it’s getting Air Care and setting up an LZ (landing zone) or anything where we can assist these other agencies.”

The upside of working for E911, Garrard said, is helping the public.

“We’ve done it many times. Citizens call up here needing the public records on calls to their house, and if they made the phone call, we can give it to them. Whether the public knows it or not, we help people on a daily basis and rarely get thanked for it. I don’t expect it, but it’s just the peace of knowing going home at night knowing you’ve done good in the community.”

The downside, he said is the long hours and the frustration he can’t do more for the people who call with E911 during stressful situations.

He recalled a phone call he received as a dispatcher from a young adult who walked in his home one morning and found his mother who had been murdered.

“It happened at a home off Halls Ferry Road. It was 20 minutes before I went to get off shift. I took that phone call, and you could just hear the distress in his voice, and being able to calm him down was very challenging. He just saw his mom dead.

“Those moments like that, when you’re on the other end of the phone not being able to see these people and help them is very, very challenging. Sometimes it’s depressing, because you want to do more and all you have is this phone line.”

As a first responder with the Northeast Volunteer Fire Department, Garrard said, he sees the person he’s helping. “And we have different techniques of helping people. But when you have a phone line between you and them, all you can do is try to calm them down and reassure them.”

He said serving as a firefighter gives him a better appreciation of the dispatchers’ job, and it helps the dispatchers when he can go to work and tell them, “Y’all did a great job with everything you were able to pass onto us and it was able to help us treat the situation.”

Garrard said he has no plans to leave E911.

“I hope to one day be director over this agency; I started at the bottom and I would like to say I made all the way through the ranks.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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