The single mother was on her way to work, driving her daughter to school, when her 9-year-old asked:
“Mom, why can’t you work in a grocery store? They have better hours and I would see you more.”
Garden Grove PD Dispatch Supervisor Nicole Shorrow knows how taxing her career can be on home life, with 12-hour shifts and schedules that sometimes go all over the map.
But Shorrow also knows she has one of the most fulfilling careers around.
So, too, do her 9-year-old and two other children.
“My daughter always says that when she grows up, she also wants to be a dispatcher,” Shorrow said. “She sees how much fun we have with each other here — that we are like another whole family.
“I wouldn’t trade this job for anything.”
And so it goes for members of the Communications Division of the GGPD — 17 dispatchers, a full-time alarm coordinator, and a unit supervisor, Rebecca Meeks, who all thrive on the challenges of their work as well as the rewards.
“I love my job,” said Meeks, a 23-year veteran of the GGPD who started as a dispatcher.
It’s a fast-paced job where multi-tasking skills are critical, and where officer safety always is paramount in the minds of those answering the 911 calls, which can range from the mundane — a caller once called 911 and asked Meeks how to cook a turkey — to a child drowning.
“Calls involving children are always the toughest,” said Meeks, a single mother of two. “I think a lot of the public doesn’t realize how hard this work can be — how strenuous and mentally challenging.
“We have to hear things like ‘I got shot,’ ‘I’m bleeding’ or, ‘My daddy is hurting my mommy.’”
The Garden Grove PD recently hired two dispatchers — both men, who are outnumbered in the field by women — and both “laterals” from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.
On a recent weekday morning, one of those new hires, Spencer Tran, was dispatching calls while Shorrow and three others were serving as call takers — the “first, first responders” who answer 911 calls with no idea of what they’re about to hear on the other end of the line.
Tran was in training and being supervised by veteran GGPD dispatcher Tanya Samoff.
Shorrow snagged a call.
“I need an ambulance,” the man said. “My mom fell in the backyard.”
Shorrow answered a call from the GGPD front desk. Someone from Public Works was there asking where to respond to reports of bricks posing a hazard in a street.
One of several calls listed on a computer monitor on her desk concerned a nude woman with a window screen on her head roaming around a construction site.
Another 911 call came from a man reporting his car missing.
After Shorrow confirmed the car had not been impounded, a GGPD officer was dispatched to the man’s apartment to take a report of a stolen vehicle.
All of this action came within a span of 30 minutes.
Nothing out of the ordinary.
In 2015, members of the GGPD Communications Division answered 163,467 incoming calls (including non-emergency calls) and made 49,866 outgoing calls — say, to a towing truck company to move a car or in response to a question from a resident.
In addition to fielding calls, dispatchers do everything from running warrants and license plate checks.
That’s one of the appeals of dispatching — the variety of the work.
Of course, the big rewards come from helping people out, dispatchers say — sometimes in ways that can mean the difference between life and death.
Meeks, who likes numbers and once considered becoming an accountant and worked as a bank teller, recalls fielding a 911 call from a man who, along with his wife, was being confronted by a man at their apartment complex.
The couple had a temporary restraining order against the man.
He hurled a brick through their window.
Meeks heard the two men tussling and then a popping sound.
The victim got back on the phone.
“He just shot me in the head,” the caller told Meeks.
The bullet ended up entering above the man’s eyebrow, circling around his brain and exiting out the back of his skull.
He survived — with two holes in the head and a black eye.
Meeks, who has been supervisor of the Communications Division since 2007, recalled getting a 911 call about a soda can being stolen.
The next call was about a baby not breathing.
From the innocuous to the heart-wrenching, dispatchers hear it all.
And between the long hours, they juggle home life.
Dispatcher Susan Seymour recently returned to work after a five-month maternity break, getting back into the swing of things in the dark room on the first floor of the GGPD dispatchers affectionately call “The Cave” or “The Dungeon.”
Most of the light in the room comes from the glow of computer screens.
The dispatchers have each other’s backs, picking up extra calls should family business unexpectedly require a dispatcher to take time off.
They know each other so well that when one goes out for food, he or she knows what to order for his or her colleagues.
Along with Shorrow, the other GGPD dispatch supervisors are Brandy Park, Melissa Mendoza-Campos and Archie Guzman.
The dispatchers — typically four work each shift, wearing black polo shirts and black pants — are Jennifer Dix, Debby Felse, Cristina Payan, Susan Seymour, Danny Sosebee, Santa Wardle, Tanya Samoff, Marsha Spellman, Katherine Francisco, Bobby Lux, Cheryl Whitney, Jennifer Rodriguez, Spencer Tran and Michael Moser.
Alarm Coordinator is Amanda Garner.
Meeks said recently, the dispatchers seem to be fielding more calls than usual.
Mother’s Day always is busy, she sad. Sadly, lots of family fights break out on that day.
And the Fourth of July always is a doozy, typically requiring three more dispatchers than usual per shift.
Oh, as for that 911 caller who asked Meeks how to cook a turkey, the dispatcher was quick on her feet.
“I referred her to 1-800-BUTTERBALL,” Meeks said.