Eastern Iowa dispatcher a hard job to fill - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Eastern Iowa dispatcher a hard job to fill

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Vicki Leonard, right, works her last day on Friday after 37 years as a Dubuque dispatcher Vicki Leonard, right, works her last day on Friday after 37 years as a Dubuque dispatcher
DUBUQUE (KWWL) -

They make our communities safer places to live and are just a phone call away, but the public doesn't generally see them in action. They are eastern Iowa's emergency services dispatchers, and it's tough to find somebody to fill this critical role when a position opens up.

Vicki Leonard is lead dispatch for Dubuque's 911 Communications Center, which is staffed by 18 civilians.

"All of us in here are, you know, trained emergency medical dispatchers, and we dispatch for fire, police, sheriff, ambulance, whatever the case may be," Leonard said.

Emergency communications manager Mark Murphy said a dispatch job is a tough one to fill.

"It is hard because it's not a job that everybody can do," Murphy said. "You could be dealing with a shooting to a car accident to a child not breathing all within the same five minutes and all within the same time. I mean, we've had events where somebody got shot and we've had a plane crash all within the same time. The stress level is so high that some people just can't handle it."

That's why the folks at Dubuque's communications center are sad to see Vicki Leonard go. She's retiring at the end of this week after 37 years of service, during which she's seen everything on the spectrum from good to bad.

"Just some days you just wonder how you're going to get through it," Leonard said.

Those days include one some 23 years ago. She and her husband had just lost their two-day-old son, who died due to a heart defect.

"I came back to work, and the first 911 call I had was a father had just found his baby not breathing," Leonard said. "I remember my manager at that time hearing the call come in and, you know, basically, 'Do you want us to take it over?' and I didn't want them to take it over because I felt, at that point, I knew what they were feeling."

"We're losing a good training person," Murphy said, of Leonard. "We're losing somebody with a lot of knowledge and we're losing the kind of person that I want answering the phone when my child's having an issue because she's very good at what she does, and she's taking a lot of knowledge with her."

The center has big shoes to fill, and Leonard said she'll miss her colleagues.

"We spend more time together than we do with our own families," she said.

Murphy said Leonard has left her mark on everyone at the communications center.

"I came in as a part-time dispatcher, started out of college and she trained me and now, you know, everybody's worked through there and everybody's been trained by her," Murphy said.

The communications center has interviewed 15 people for the part-time dispatch position that's opening up after the center filled Leonard's spot with a current full-time employee, Murphy said, adding they're currently narrowing down the list for this demanding job.

"We can be talking on the phone, answering the radio, listening on the radio and the phone and have somebody in the background telling you something else. There's lots of things that can be going on at one time, and we look for people that can handle the stress of that," Murphy said. "There's days when you leave at the end of the day, you're just worn off - physically and emotionally - because it's been a rough day, a long day and a busy day, and it just takes the right kind of person to do that and not everybody's meant to be a dispatcher."

Leonard and her husband have four living children. She said she plans to spend some of her newfound time in retirement playing with her grandchildren and sewing with her sister.

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