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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

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Fire department dispatcher loves to help people

Fire department dispatcher loves to help people

CUT OFF, La. (AP) — Theresa Naquin never thought she'd be a 911 dispatcher, but now that she is, she can't imagine doing anything else.

She remembers rushing home to find her high school diploma so she could apply for an opening at Lafourche Parish Fire District 3 and getting to the central station just in time. The room was full of applicants when she took her civil service test, but she was called for an interview and later offered the job.

"When I came here and I started learning, I was overwhelmed at first because it's so much you have to learn at one time," she said. "But I knew that this was my career and I was meant to have it. ... It's just something that I know I'm going to be doing for the rest of my life because I love to help people."

The 32-year-old native of Cut Off started with the fire department in August 2013. Before that, she worked for Lafourche ARC and as a caregiver for elderly residents.

"Before, you would be with them 24/7 and you would actually take care of them," she said. "You would feed them, bathe them. Some of them, they would have Alzheimer's so you'd have to make sure they wouldn't walk out into the street and stuff like that. (Now) I'm not at these people's houses, but I kind of know what's going on. You're not on scene, but you know kind of what these people are going through."

Fire District 3's dispatchers handle fire, rescue and medical calls. They work 12-hour shifts, and they must be prepared for anything.

Naquin said multitasking and staying alert are two of the most needed abilities.

"You could think it's a car crash, and then all of a sudden you need your firefighters to go out there because somebody's trapped," she said. "Or they hit a pole, so you need to call Entergy. If there's injuries, you need to see if you can get someone to assess the injuries. ... You have no idea what to expect, and it keeps you on your toes."

Naquin said dispatchers must try to keep the caller calm but also put themselves in that person's situation.

Some people will call because they're sick with a cold, Naquin said, but other calls are much more urgent and tragic.

One of Naquin's most difficult calls was when a young boy drowned as he and his friends tried to swim across the bayou. Another time, a teenager was shot and killed.

Although not everyone can be saved, Naquin finds gratification in helping whenever she can.

"The most rewarding ones are the ones where you are just happy that the people make it," she said. "When you get on the phone with somebody and they just tell you thank you, or they're just relieved that they got help. And you can always hear it in their voices, the relief that they get from you helping them."