SHOUT OUTS: This week, Bergen County will join local and state governments nationwide in honoring the behind-the scenes heroes in public safety: the dispatchers, call takers, telecommunication professionals and radio technicians who are the very first to respond to emergencies.
Launched more than three decades ago, National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week aims to spotlight the unsung contributors during both personal and public crises. The centerpiece takes place at 6 p.m. Tuesday, when Bergen’s crew will be honored by local and county officials (SEE BELOW).
No bigger event happened last year in Bergen County than a gunfire spree by a young man with a rifle at the Garden State Plaza.
Emergency responders of all sizes descended on the mall that Nov. 4 night. Making it possible for all to communicate: Bergen County Communications professionals.
They relayed the calls to the county command post and Paramus police of shoppers and store employees locked down in the mall after 20-year-old Richard Shoop of Teaneck began shooting.
But that was only the beginning.
Dispatchers updated the county Command Post and local police on Shoop’s description and movements, while two public safety telecommunicators rushed to the scene in an SUV mini-command post and distributed radios programmed to the Bergen County Trunk Radio System.
It was a critical link: Such interoperability isn’t available every day.
“This allowed multiple agencies and towns to talk on the same talk group and communicate in real time,” said Capt. Mark Lepinski, communications director of the Bergen County Public Safety Operations Center. “All the municipalities and agencies involved were able to talk to one another and work as a team.”
Less than two months earlier, calming words from a county dispatcher helped avert potential disaster after a drunken Westwood man threatened to kill himself with a loaded semi-automatic handgun.
It was only after the troubled caller put the weapon down and surrendered that police discovered he’d positioned several other loaded firearms in a path from his front porch into the house.
Veteran dispatcher Cindy Saidel took the 52-year-old man’s call. She knew him from previous dispatching days in Closter and was able to keep him on the line while alerting local police.
“Apparently, he was intoxicated and holding the gun as he sat on his porch, saying he wanted to end his life,” Westwood Police Chief Frank Regino told CLIFFVIEW PILOT.
Westwood police rushed to the Dean Street home, assisted by officers from Hillsdale and River Vale. They found the man sitting on his porch, holding what turned out to be a loaded Glock .9mm, the chief said.
“They showed the utmost restraint, given how close they were to him,” Regino said. “They laid back while the dispatcher talked with him.
“After about 15 minutes, he put the gun down and surrendered to our officers.”
The man was taken to Bergen Regional Medical Center and no charges were filed.
“It looked like he was ready to go,” one veteran officer told CLIFFVIEW PILOT. “Who knows what could have happened if it escalated?”
Calm all around kept everyone from finding out.
Saidel “was just phenomenal,” Regino said.
It was only a few days later when a group of first responders and a pair of good Samaritans brought a man who collapsed in Overpeck Park in Leonia back to life.
The victim began having severe chest pains while walking with his wife on a jogging path in the park’s north end. After sitting down on a bench, he collapsed.
Police responding to a call of a man in cardiac arrest found a man and woman doing CPR on him, thanks to cellphone instructions from county telecommunicators Britta Beacham, Kelly Conway and Michael Palmer.
The officers took over, using a portable defibrillator and CPR to get the man’s heart pumping until paramedics and EMTs arrived.
The man eventually recovered at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, Leonia Police Chief Thomas Rowe said.
“Collectively, their dedication and hard work saved a life,” Rowe said.
PST professionals routinely pull 12-hour shifts. They work weekends, holidays. They deal with all types of crises and emergencies, rarely — if ever — knowing how the horrible stories they hear will turn out.
They “don’t nearly get the credit [they] deserve, but make a difference every day,” said Lepinski, the ops center communications director.
On Tuesday, police, firefighters, EMS workers, mayors, council members and others from throughout Bergen County will gather at the ops center in Mahwah beginning at 6 p.m. to honor the heroes you never see.
“So many tech vendors that keep our system up and running have donated gifts to show their appreciation. The county executive will be there to present a proclamation,” said Tamara Strauss, Lepinski’s assistant. “This shows them that what they do really matters.”
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