Day and night our public safety heroes answer the call, working tirelessly to prevent crime and save lives. When they’re not doing that, they’re working with at-risk local youth or neighborhood councils. For them it’s all part of the job. In early March, before the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order went into effect, the Kiwanis Club of Richmond in partnership with Chevron Richmond honored some of the people who are keeping the city safe at its annual Public Safety Awards Dinner. Amid the COVID-19 public health crisis, the Standard will highlight each of the honorees as a reminder of the sacrifices made by frontline responders.
After a bus filled with children caught fire in an accident on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge last year, first responders rushed to the scene. But not all heroes of the moment were on the bridge that day.
Marianne Hill, a veteran dispatcher with the Richmond Communications Center, fielded the call that day and made a swift, difficult decision to break the rules in order to save lives. Rather than call the Richmond Fire Department (RFD) to the bridge, as required by protocol, Hill recognized the RFD response would be delayed amid the commute hour, so she contacted San Rafael Fire instead.
“[San Rafael Fire] responded to the crash scene, which potentially may have saved some of the kids from being injured or worse,” recently retired Richmond police Capt. Joey Schlemmer said.
Hill is one among a number of unsung heroes working out of the Richmond Communications Center. Amid a woefully understaffed department last year that required mandatory overtime, Hill literally answered the call. She fielded nearly 15,000 calls into the Communications Center in 2019, more than any other dispatcher on her team, working nearly 600 hours of mandatory overtime, Schlemmer said. And those figures are only part of the reason Hill was nominated by her peers as Dispatcher of the Year.
Hill’s ability to react quickly has benefited emergency responses on multiple occasions. In a separate 911 call last year, a person suffering a medical condition was having difficulty breathing and struggled to speak. Hill had a general idea of where the victim was via his cellphone GPS, but that doesn’t provide a specific location. So she got him to respond to her questions using the keypad on his cellphone.
“Not only did she work on pinpointing his specific location, but also used that same questions/answer method using the keypad to provide a physical description of the male caller so emergency personnel knew who they were looking for,” Schlemmer said.
A dispatcher since 2009, Hill trains new dispatchers and is the active supervisor when the supervisor is not at work on any given shifts. In the last year alone, she spent more than 500 hours training new hires.
Hill was lauded as being able to “think outside the box.”
“I don’t think dispatchers really get the credit they deserve,” Schlemmer said. “They are probably some of the hardest working folks that we have.”
Dispatchers have a unique ability to multi-task.
“They could be taking a 911 call, giving medical assistance and having to answer radio traffic at the same time,” Schlemmer said.
Being named among the best by her peers says a lot about Hill, he added.