At a meeting Oct. 21, SERESA officials recognized Kathryn Schmelzer for being named the 2020 Telecommunicator of the Year.

At a meeting Oct. 21, SERESA officials recognized Kathryn Schmelzer for being named the 2020 Telecommunicator of the Year.

Photo by Brendan Losinski

SERESA dispatcher named Michigan Telecommunicator of the Year

By: Brendan Losinski | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published October 23, 2020


ROSEVILLE — A South East Regional Emergency Services Authority dispatcher recently received an award for 2020 Telecommunicator of the Year.

Kathryn Schmelzer has worked for SERESA for two years and was nominated for the award by her supervisors. She was chosen over dispatchers from throughout Michigan. She is receiving the award from the Michigan Association of Public Safety Communications Officials, which oversees dispatchers all over the state.

She spends long and often stressful days taking 911 calls, non-emergency calls and dispatching police, fire and EMS services to the sites of emergencies.

“It’s incredible. It’s such a thankless job normally and I‘m usually just a voice with no face, so this is a great feeling,” Schmelzer said. “I work 12-hour shifts, usually two on and three off or three on and two off with every other weekend off. I work 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. I come in, gear up, and the phones and radios are pretty nonstop. We can be responding to calls and dispatching units at the same time. There’s at least four dispatchers on at a time and it’s still very hectic.”

Sherie Bartram, the executive director of SERESA, said being a dispatcher requires a lot from a person.

“They have to be able to multitask — that’s huge,” she explained. “They have to have compassion toward the citizens. They are not usually having a great day when they call 911, and sometimes when you’re not having a great day your emotions are high, and those emotions are taken out on the people on the other side of the phone, so dispatchers are trained not to let that affect them and not take it personally. They need to be caring no matter what is being said to you on the other end of the phone, and Kathryn does that extremely well.”

Bartram said most members of the public don’t have a very good idea of what working in a dispatch center is like.

“When people come in here to see what we do, they’re always so surprised because it’s always more than they thought,” she said. “They see the screens and hear the phones and the constant incoming calls. People don’t really realize what a 911 dispatcher does until they see it in action. It’s hard to quantify until you see it. You have to juggle talking to callers and making sure they’re heard and all right while getting officers to a scene and looking up information.”

She added that Schmelzer was the perfect person to receive such recognition because she exemplifies these qualities.

“Kathryn was nominated by her supervisor for her work ethic and for her attention to detail, her calmness when she’s taking emergency runs, and because she’s a dedicated and dependable dispatcher,” said Bartram. “She was recently promoted to become a communication training officer, so we depend on her to train new dispatchers, and that’s a nice step for her as a two-year dispatcher — that we have that much faith in her that we can give a new person to her and trust that she’ll mold that person and she can train them to be her partner.”

Despite her proficiency at it, Schmelzer didn’t grow up intending to be a dispatcher. In fact, she was grooming dogs before she found her calling.

“Dog grooming was a lot of physical, manual labor where I had to sometimes wrestle dogs that weighed more than I did,” she said. “When I moved to Albuquerque with my husband in 2015 so he could enter the police academy there and I just wanted something to get me on the same schedule and give me a better understanding of what he does and what I could do, so I went into dispatching.”

She stayed on as a dispatcher in Albuquerque until 2017 when she and her husband moved to Macomb Township and Schmelzer became a dispatcher for SERESA.

Schmelzer said there are high and low points working as an emergency dispatcher. Among the hardest parts is not knowing what happens to most of the people she tries to help.

“The lack of closure is the hardest part of the job,” she said. “We can be working someone through CPR for anyone from an infant to an elderly person, and once the ambulance picks them up and takes them to the hospital, we have no idea what happens from there.”

She went on to say that she makes it through those difficulties thanks in large part to her fellow dispatchers.

“The team aspect (is the best part of my job),” Schmelzer said. “I love being part of the team, mainly on the police side, doing whatever research I can from within our system, like finding license plates. It’s not just about me. My team is incredible and they all deserve a ‘thank you.’”

George Rouhib, chair of the SERESA board and Eastpointe’s director of Public Safety, said this award highlights not only Schmelzer’s work, but the quality of dispatchers working for the organization.

“It’s a great accomplishment,” he remarked. “It recognizes SERESA and what they and their employees are all about. It’s also good for all of the communities to see that we have professional dispatchers working in a stressful environment. It’s an achievement she’ll remember for the rest of her life, and we’re very proud of her as an executive board.”

“We’re really honored that Kathryn was chosen,” added Bartram. “She’s a true asset to our agency and we’re glad she came here from Albuquerque. When we first interviewed her, she was one of those applicants that just shined.”