May 22 • 07:13 PM

Background noise buzzes with life, literally

January 16, 2008
The scanner is turned up loud.

Instead of the buzz of background noise it usually emits—law enforcement communications, medical emergencies, school bus and GLTA drivers—the dispatcher is orchestrating events like the pro that she is. She always, always sounds the same, whether it's a major event or a "radio check." Her voice is youthful but strong.

I've often wondered about the woman, about what her job must be like. Especially on a day like today when there's a fire at Hickory Square Apartments in Imlay City. I realize I do not know her name.

She calmly and with impeccable diction puts the call out: "Attention, Imlay City Fire. Imlay City Fire. Structure fire at so-and-so address, Hickory Square Apartments."

Soon the airwaves crackle with activity. The fire chief and police ask questions and exchange information. Confirm that they're enroute. She acknowledges that and answers with everything she knows about the event at the time.

It becomes clear that the situation is serious. She reit-erates that the call came in from a third party and she instructed the caller to evacuate the building. She then learns and lets emergency responders know that it's confirmed that a wall is on fire.

More radio exchanges from firefighters establish-ing 'Incident Command,' for specifics about where to locate their rigs, where fire hydrants are, to call in another department for assistance and the like.

The firefighters' voices are urgent and direct. They need firefighters with airpacks. They call for another one to go up the stairs. I think of how scary that is and how brave these people are.

Then, everything's under control. The dispatcher calls the second (or third) fire department which is likely suited up and rolling down the road.

"Sorry to do this to you," she says earnestly. "They just called and cancelled the alarm."

"That's great," the firefighter responds. "No problem."

All of this happens in less than ten minutes time. It is truly remarkable teamwork.

The communication now turns to logistics and specifics. It is clear that the firefighters and police work together to execute their plan. Almont is bringing in a big ladder truck and they're working out the best way to get it where they need it most.

I usually don't spend a whole lot of time thinking about the scanner. Ditto for the everyday life of firefighters and police. Their presence, much like the scanner, is something I take for granted. It is much the same for the level-headed, professional-voiced dispatcher who speaks their language fluently and efficiently.

Like all things taken for granted, I sometimes forget to turn the scanner up when I come into the office in the morning because half the time I don't really hear what's going on over it anyway. Thankfully, it is rare that something major and/or tragic is happening and the bus drivers, while they sound like pleasant, hard-working people, aren't talking news stories. The GLTA drivers talk routes and pickups and drop offs and fees. The school bus drivers, remarkably, account for every child and keep in touch with the schools' central office so they stay on top of things. I hear it without really hearing it.

Like today. Scanner humming in the background until the fire whistle blares and I begin to listen again. The coded language, the quick communications, the professional response by emergency personnel and the amazing work they all do in all sorts of situations and conditions that helps keep our community safe. It's pretty amazing stuff.

Email Catherine at

Castle Creek
Milnes Ford
05 - 22 - 19
Site Search

Thanks for visiting Tri City Times