Inside Ottawa's 911 Communication Centre to meet the ones who answer the call
It is National Public Telecommunicators week, recognizing the nonstop work of emergency frontline call operators.
In Canada's capital, there is a dedicated team of 911 communicators working hard to help protect the public.
Inside the Ottawa Police Service headquarters, there is a communications room. This is the frontline, the first point of contact when you call 911.
"It's high stress, it's like nothing I've ever done before," says Katrina Baumeister, a police communicator with the Ottawa Police Service. "We will be transferring your calls to ambulance, fire or any other agencies like OPP, RCMP, that can assist you based on what you need and where you are."
Baumeister is one of 120 communicators who work at Ottawa's Emergency Call Centre helping to protect the city’s one million citizens.
"It's what you would expect like assaults, robberies, they do occur but the vast majority of our calls aren't." says Baumeister.
On any given day, each communicator will answer anywhere from 50 calls to as many as 200 and on average, Ottawa police receives about 1,200 calls to the centre per day.
"Every day is different, you don't know what you're going to get, every shift is different," says police communicator Jessika Bolduc. "Day shift is pretty different, your typical business day calls include accidents and then depending on weekend night shifts you get the bars, the bar closed fights and stuff like that and a lot more mental health calls."
But during an 11-hour shift some of those calls can be hard to hear.
"I was involved in a stabbing call a few months ago," says Baumeister. "The nature of the emergency is so intense and so stressful it's definitely more challenging. Any assault with weapons are pretty difficult to get through, especially when you were talking to the victim."
The Ottawa Police Service prioritizes mental health support for its employees.
"We have a great wellness team at OPS, so they do take care of us very well," says Bolduc. "You take breaks when you can and you got great coworkers to talk to after bad calls, good calls and funny calls."
Because quirky calls do come in. Bolduc laughed remembering one incident involving animals on the loose in the east end.
"It's kind of a dangerous condition we can't get anyone running into donkeys and horses but I was just waiting for the videos to come in about the officers running after the donkeys and horses," she says.
Call numbers increased throughout the pandemic, many relating to rules and others for mental health support. When the anti-mandate convoy was in the capital, calls climbed as well. Bolduc noted that at the time, people were frustrated from both sides.
What was not normal - calls on social media to illegally overload 911 with non-emergency calls - potentially putting someone's life in danger and wasting valuable time when every second counts.
"People don't call 911 because they're having a good day,” says Ottawa police Insp, Russell Lucas. "[The communicators] are taking that first call, that first contact with the public. When people are having a crisis in their life, they were quiet, quietly and silently behind the scenes. They are unsung heroes and they don't get a lot of credit for that great work that they do."
Helping to protect and save lives one call at to time, every day and every night all year round.