Schwebke’s skills as dispatcher recognized

Written by Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer April 20, 2011 02:54 pm

9-1-1 DISPATCHER Cathy Schwebke accepts her Telecommunicator of the Year award from La Grande Mayor Daniel Pokorney during a ceremony Friday at the Union County justice center. Schwebke, who has logged 22 years as a dispatcher, won the award also in 2007. BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH / The Observer
09-1-1 DISPATCHER Cathy Schwebke accepts her Telecommunicator of the Year award from La Grande Mayor Daniel Pokorney during a ceremony Friday at the Union County justice center. Schwebke, who has logged 22 years as a dispatcher, won the award also in 2007. BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH / The Observer

Longtime dispatcher named Union County Public Safety Telecommunicator of the Year

After more than two decades as a 9-1-1 dispatcher, Cathy Schwebke has developed a knack for taking things in stride.

She won’t be rattled in an adrenaline-soaked emergency, and she won’t be flustered when her peers stand up and say she’s the best at what she does.

In a ceremony in the basement conference room of the Union County Justice Center Friday, Schwebke was named Union County Public Safety Telecommunicator of the Year.

It was her second award since 2007. Asked after the presentation how she felt about that, she said she hadn’t had time to think about it.

Asked how she feels about her job, she said she wouldn’t be able to do it without a good support system at home.

“It’s a very interesting job, and it’s high stress,” she said. “Sometimes you work long hours and you miss a lot of family events. You’ve got to have good support from your family.”

The La Grande Police Department’s 9-1-1 section does dispatching for 22 public safety agencies throughout Union County.

Each April, in conjunction with National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, the dispatchers hold an event to honor their own. During Friday’s gathering, Communications Manager Lola Lathrop commended all her employees for contributions made to public safety and emergency response the past year.

Lathrop said 9-1-1 dispatchers are the first to respond for a citizen’s call for help, and bear an awesome weight of responsibility.

At any moment, dispatchers can find themselves involved in a critical incident, a medical emergency or an unstable and potentially violent law enforcement situation.

“You are the professionals with the calm voice to all, including first-responding units faced with life and death decisions,” Lathrop said.

Lathrop said that for all of that, a telecommunicator’s job is a often a thankless one.

“Most often the appreciation you receive comes from within, from knowing you have performed to the best of your ability,” she said.

Lathrop called each dispatcher in the department forward, lauding each for specific contributions they made throughout the year.

Schwebke, Cheri Alamani, Rose Blake, Carol Ann St. Clair, Ramona Campbell, Dyan Snook, Ronda Griffin, Tom Emmons and Krista Silver all received high praise from their supervisor.

They were honored not only for their day-to-day work at the communication console, but also for extra tasks they perform. Dispatchers are involved in a wide range of other activities, from critical stress debriefing to web site management and more.

Silver was in for some added recognition, as La Grande City Manager Robert Strope named her Employee of the Month for March.

In addition to dispatching, Silver works for the police department as lead evidence technician. Strope said she does an exemplary job under demanding conditions.

“The work involves not only the handling of property and evidence, but the ability to work with three other technicians, every officer and deputy, the district attorney’s office, courts, juvenile department and Parole and Probation,” Strope said.

Mayor Daniel Pokorney was on hand to bestow the Telecommunicator of the Year award on Schwebke. He said that in her 22-year career, Schwebke has demonstrated a superior work ethic and dedication to those she serves.

Pokorney read some excerpts from award nominations. One of those nominations praised Schwebke for her cool handling this past year of an officer-involved shooting.

Another testified to the overall professionalism she shows when on the radio, and a third praised Schwebke for a neutral, business-like manner in her day-to-day work.

Pokorney added some praise of his own, as he presented her award.

“We are privileged to have you as an employee and the community is better served because of your dedication to others,” the mayor said.

Schwebke worked for many years as a telephone company employee before taking her job as a dispatcher in 1988.

In 1987, the telephone company closed the department she worked in and she set out to find something new. She had her mind made up it wouldn’t be just any job.

“I decided that my next career would be exciting and interesting,” she said.

Schwebke acknowledged, though, that all good things must come to an end. In December, she’ll be retiring.

She said she’s excited about the next phase of her life. She and her husband, Evan, have some big plans.

“We’ll camp, fish, hunt and garden, and we plan to do some traveling,” she said.