By Dan Merritt, Advocate reporter
A phone call about someone being beaten with a hammer wasn’t a fun 911 recording to listen to.
But Jon Burdette, dispatcher with the Tripp County sheriff’ s office, had to endure.
There were a variety of other real-life recordings he and others had to sit through and evaluate during 911 training.
Burdette graduated the two-week course in early March.
911 training and certification took place at the Law Enforcement Training facility in Pierre.
During classroom time, actual 911 calls were played for the group of 17 trainees.
“Some of those calls, you’d get goosebumps,” Burdette remembered.
In fact, the training invoked a lot of emotions. Intentionally, it seems.
But emotions, particularly panic, had to be squelched and replaced with calm, Burdette noted.
Anger, too, had to be suppressed because some 911 callers can be particularly provoking, engaging in name-calling or making insulting remarks.
“You don’t get into a yelling match with them. Don’t try to out-yell them.”
That also goes for a panicky caller who may be extra loud on the phone because of the circumstance that prompted the call.
In that case the 911 call responder has to not only remain calm but work to calm the caller, Burdette explained.
Calm, because that is how important information is obtained: the caller’s address, phone number, and name.
Burdette and his fellow classmates were constantly evaluated while practicing their responses to a variety of 911calls for help.
Evaluations that helped them, as responders, improve, Burdette said.
Improve to the point of surviving a tough 90-question test and, even tougher, successfully handling a final session series of simulated 911 calls at the end of training.
Burdette said that final session made him nervous whenever he thought about it during the two weeks of training in Pierre.
“That’s what stressed me out the most (during) the days leading up to that.”
But the day finally arrived and he had to don his headset and take-on whatever situations may be concocted by one of the 911 course supervisors.
“There were two computer screens and I had a microphone.
“And then the teacher (evaluator) sat two rows behind me.”
At first, Burdette said he was very aware of the instructor’s presence. “But after awhile, you kind of get used to it.”
There were four simulations.
“One was, there was a little girl calling and her parents were fighting downstairs.”
Burdette said he could hear the adults, verbally sparring loudly and angrily in the background.
“On the computer they have different sound effects,” he explained.
There were no gunshots, he added.
He kept the girl on the line, collecting important basic information. Then he dispatched to the scene the number of police officers he thought would be necessary.
“They called for back-up,” he reported.
In another simulation, “there was a bar fight going on.”
He could hear it in the background as well, via computer sound effects.
“And one, there was a semi that rolled over that had hazardous material.
“There was stuff coming out from under the truck. And then the fire department gets there and tells you what the hazmat number is and you have to find out what it is.”
Though he had already “graduated” the 911 training course — his photo taken with South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley at 11 a.m. on final testing day — Burdette didn’t actually undergo his last and deciding 911 emergency simulations until about 4 p.m.
They continued until around 5 p.m., at which time Burdette was officially deemed qualified as a 911 call-taker, having passed the simulated calls and responding to them effectively.
“I was glad to be done,” he remembers vividly.
Burdette is also the Tripp County emergency manager. He was hired in fall last year as dispatcher with the sheriff’s department.
He replaced Jeannette Long who had been with the sheriff’s office for three decades, he informed. That’s quite a time period of service, he added.
Being a new dispatcher, he had up to a year to take the 80-hour, 911 training course in Pierre. And now, though certified to take 911 calls, he remains at the sheriff’s office in his current dispatch job.
To work 911 calls constantly, he’d have to hire-on with the 911 office inside the Winner police station, he commented.
Burdette’s glad he experienced the training; it has helped him be a better dispatcher, he feels.
One thing he realized, he said: “Each call is important to that person.” It’s not to be dismissed as a waste of time, because to the caller it’s not a waste of time. And the call-taker can’t come across as uncaring or unimpressed, he elaborated.
There was another important point of emphasis Burdette obtained from the 911 course.
“One of the biggest things they kept saying is dispatchers are a lifeline for police officers, first-responders.
“An officer goes to a call and the guy ends up having a gun right there.
“The officer is going to call you first. You got to get him help.
“You’re the lifeline.”
Burdette, 23, a Colome native, is a 2010 high school graduate. He took a year of college classes at South Dakota State University, Brookings, in 2010-11.
Prior to coming to the sheriff’s office, he was the assistant manager at Casey’s of Winner.