Their co-workers are sick. Their family members are falling ill. But as emergency calls reach unprecedented highs amid the coronavirus crisis, these 911 operators are working seven days a week to help make sure someone will always be on the other end of the phone.
“Our city needs us,” Police Communications Technician Carla Jones told The Post. “We’re going to do whatever we can do so we can to help our city.”
Jones, along with PCT Sophia McQuay and supervising PCT Laura Corlette, are picking up extra shifts at two dispatch centers in The Bronx and Brooklyn to handle the surge of skyrocketing emergency calls that have sometimes reached four times their usual level. Their workload stress is only compounded by the fact that a slew of colleagues have called out sick.
“These three individuals have put the safety of New Yorkers above their own safety. They’re at their best when times are at the worst,” said Deputy Chief Richard Napolitano from the NYPD’s Communications Division.
“They’ve been working long hours, double shifts, foregoing their days off, sacrificing time with their families. And they’re just giving 100 percent of themselves to make sure that a lifeline is always there to send help when needed.”
When worried New Yorkers call in, saying they’re having difficulty breathing or need someone to check on a loved one, the technicians are there to keep them calm and assure them help is on the way.
“The person will say, ‘I’m scared’ or, you know, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do, I don’t want to die’ and I have to assure them that … ‘I’m here with you. If I need to stay on the phone with you, I’m going to stay on the phone with you,’ ” Jones said.
“The other night, I was doing overtime, and I received a call from a young lady saying that she was having difficulty breathing, she tested positive. And her daughter is also in the house with her,” McQuay said.
The young mom was so scared, McQuay couldn’t even get her to say her location, the first thing dispatchers need so they can send help.
“She just kept on telling me that she couldn’t breathe. I kept on assuring her everything’s going to be alright, ‘Just take a deep breath, and let me get your address.’ … I had to comfort her before I could even pass this call on,” McQuay said.
By the end of the call, the woman was thanking McQuay, who already had help on the way.
Corlette, who’s been with the department for 21 years, worked through Sept. 11 but said the coronavirus is just “different” because of the call volume. Aside from surging cardiac-arrest and difficulty-breathing reports, the operators are also receiving a slew of wellness-check calls.
“It’s so sad because some people are like, ‘My mom is elderly, I cannot go and check on her’ because, you know, they tested positive for COVID and we have to send the police to check on them,” Corlette said.
She said it’s been “very hard” for her after she learned her own nephew tested positive for the virus.
“I’m concerned about him. [But] I still have to come to work and handle the job,” the veteran operator said.
Like all essential workers, the three techs take a risk every day when they come to work, but they’re willing to do it because all emergencies start with a 911 operator picking up the phone.
“It’s mentally stressful and physically, but I know as an essential worker, I’m needed here to help out my fellow co-workers, my city that I live in,” McQuay said.
Jones added, “If it’s not for us, who’s going to help them?
“I’m going to let them know that I’m here for them. We could be the last person they hear. So I want them to know that the last person they heard from, they cared.”
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