They are the first voice heard when calling for help.


The 911 telecommunicators answer every call and act accordingly for the Freeport Police and Stephenson County Sheriff's departments and do it all with extreme professionalism no matter the situation. They don't know when the phone rings whether they will be dealing with just a minor accident or an incident when someone's life is in danger. It's a job, obviously, that not many people could handle, but those who do are special.


That's why the second week of April each year is set aside to honor the telecommunicators who answer those calls and show up every day for a job that is never the same two days in a row. They play a vital role, and their leaders understand that and will make sure they get the credit they deserve this week.


"We have a few plans to recognize them and give them something extra to show our appreciation for all the hard work they do day in and day out," said Freeport Police Deputy Chief Travis Davis.


The Freeport Police Department has 12 telecommunicators who cover four rotating shifts -- two who cover days and two who cover nights -- every day. Those people range in experience from more than 20 years to just a few years but all are capable of handling whatever comes their way.


"They are the unsung heroes that direct all the traffic and take the initial calls and get people where they need to go," Davis said.


That means they decide what resources are needed, whether it be police, fire, ambulance or a combination of all three and dispatch them to a location. They do all of that in a matter of seconds after getting some initial information from the caller.


And if that isn't demanding enough, they also keep communicating with the caller while simultaneously maintaining a dialogue with the emergency responders to keep them updated of the situation. That's a lot going on at once.


"They're a bunch of hard-working, caring individuals that handle minor calls to the most stressful situations," Davis said. "They continue to stay calm while doing it and provide the appropriate services."


The Stephenson County Sheriff's Department has similar plans to honor its telecommunicators during their special week.


"We honor them every year. The telecommunicators are such an important part of what we do. They're the first point of contact for the public," said Sheriff Dave Snyders. "We depend on them a lot especially now."


Six full-time dispatchers staff the sheriff's emergency and non-emergency lines, and testing will begin soon to hopefully add to that number, Snyders said. The people who do the job now are good at handling all situations that may come their way.


"It's a very stressful job. Some periods they have nothing and then they get inundated with 911 calls and non-emergency calls," Snyders said. "They're good at multi-tasking and good on the radio while keeping the caller calm at the same time."


One telecommunicator for the county also is fluent in Spanish and can respond to Hispanic callers. That telecommunicator has to switch between speaking English to deputies and then Spanish to the caller which requires tremendous focus.


Sheriff's department telecommunicators also face the difficulty of trying to get appropriate resources spread out across the county.


"Being a rural county, they have to monitor what's going with the deputy at the scene of a domestic violence call and then another deputy responding who may be in another place in the county," Snyders said.