Life has a way of gifting us little reminders of how beautifully simple and rich it can be when we make time to connect with others. Have you ever chatted with someone and left feeling light, refreshed? Time raced, while half of the conversation zipped by because stories were bouncing off the air, melding, and becoming bright rays of sunshine! Afterwards, you stop and think about this person and how incredible they are. The best part is that they themselves do not realize it.
I had the pleasure of visiting with Lisa Linegar hoping to understand her job a little better and stumbled upon a goldmine of inspiration and refreshing selflessness. Lisa has devoted the last 10 years to one of the toughest and unrecognized jobs around; a dispatcher for the Homer, Alaska area. The dispatchers take 911 calls for the Homer Police Department, Homer Fire Department, and the Homer Emergency Medical Services. Although I am highlighting Lisa and different facets of her life, it’s important to note that she is one of 7 dispatchers that do this job in our area and we want to honor all of them by saying thank you for what you do.
Lisa has had a lifelong connection with the dispatch profession. Her mother was a dispatcher for the Alaska State Troopers and even met Lisa’s father (a Trooper at the time) through dispatching. Lisa was training in the Biology and Elementary Education fields, but through a series of life events and a suggestion from the Kenai City Police Chief, Lisa began her dispatch career in Kenai in 2009 and never left the job. Her family relocated to Homer 3 years ago so her husband could pursue fishing (@AlaskaOceanPros).
To better understand what Lisa does, let’s delve into dispatching and how it works. When an emergency incident happens and someone dials 911, the first point of contact is a dispatcher. They are the calm hand we hold when our world is falling apart and assistance is needed. Dispatchers have to make sense of chaos and do so in a quick and efficient manner. They ask the correct questions, provide life-saving instructions, and send out the proper authorities. Lisa stated, “It does take a certain skill set to handle multiple things at one time, attention to detail and multitasking are pretty important skills to have.”
Training to become a dispatcher is often on-the-job, where peers conduct the majority of the training. Formal training consists of First Aid/CPR and Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD). EMD is a nationally accredited program that builds the skill in the care of patients before responders arrive, but also builds the skill of acquiring accurate information to provide responders in the case that callers cannot do so themselves.
Although, 911 is allocated solely for emergencies, Lisa and the dispatchers field ALL SORTS of calls. Lisa said, “We dispatch for police, Fire and EMS, but the calls that come in vary greatly. The joy of living in a small town is people call us for everything. Each time the phone rings we have no clue if there is an actual emergency or someone looking for the road conditions, or reporting an injured sea animal. Some calls are outside the scope of what we handle, but we usually have the appropriate information to hand out… some might call us a public directory. We encourage people to only call 911 when an actual emergency is occurring, other time we prefer non emergency line. If 911 is all the caller knows that’s okay too.”
Lisa noted that each of her work days can be completely different. In a small town like Homer (5,697 population) dispatchers wear MANY hats. “Officer safety and 911 are our first priorities, so we are always tethered to a phone and a radio,” said Lisa. However, they also have administrative duties, they process case files, sometimes monitor prisoners while in jail, and even assist police officers in patting down female prisoners when no female officer is available.
Being a dispatcher can be exciting, a source of integral skill building and troubleshooting, but an aspect of this job that is rarely mentioned is the emotional burden it carries. Perhaps the general public never hears about this aspect due to the confidentiality of 911 calls or perhaps it is second nature to compartmentalize in the law enforcement field. Dispatchers have the difficult ability of dealing with extremely high stress situations and consequently not always having closure.
You see, a dispatcher can get a call dealing with a worst-case-scenario. They are bombarded with the caller’s emotions (fear, rage, anger, helplessness, despair), they immediately troubleshoot, send out authorities, and once authorities arrive they take over. Well, dispatchers are human. They come from a variety of backgrounds, environments, ways of life. Some of them, like Lisa, have children, some of them have been on the other side of the phone. Lisa acknowledged the worst calls she gets are those involving kids. I couldn’t help but put myself in her shoes. I felt the weight of the moments when my child was in danger and realized Lisa and the other dispatchers were superhuman. I at least get to bring my son home, watch him recover, watch him go from not being okay to being okay.
Although dispatchers get to go home carrying these flashes of intensity, Homer dispatchers work in the same building as the Homer PD, and they sometimes get closure. Another comforting prospect is that not every call is bleak and not every workday brings the unsettling calls. There are plenty of positive calls, where lives are changed for the better and a dispatcher with all the knowledge they carry is ENOUGH. Superhuman.
While focused on the dispatching part of the conversation, Lisa added that she didn’t quite understand why I would pick her for my blog. She added that she didn’t do “great things” like volunteer on her off time or “things like that.” She shared the name of a classmate that is doing amazing community work up in Kenai. This same woman sat there talking to me about the time she spends with her children, the values she instills in them, all the plans she and her family have together. All the while, humbly suggesting she was not doing enough.
Lisa, to all the Lisa’s of the world (man or woman), when you invest all of you into the most precious and priceless thing we as humans have (our children) despite doing such a difficult job, you are doing MORE than enough. Lisa and Lisa’s of the world, you found what truly matters in life!
Compartmentalizing one’s life is not an easy task. Lisa has found a way to decompress, into a beautiful outlet that is her photography. Lisa provided all the images found throughout this piece. With a few exceptions, the majority of images are renditions of how Lisa sees the world.
Lisa describes her photography as: Photography that captures fluidity and the simple moments in life. Love, adventure and family.
Shockingly, Lisa has only practiced the art of photography very scarcely since high school until recently. Her ability is obvious as her images not only capture beauty, but a stillness infused with emotionally charged moments. We hope she continues to pursue her art for the rest of us to continue to enjoy.