Emergency services dispatcher Pamela Olsen has amassed “tons” of experiences during her near-quarter-century career. From bank robberies and high-speed chases, not to mention the mass of changes with the job itself, 911 director Shelley Peterson said Olsen is one of the people you’d want on your dream team of dispatchers.
“She is just a great lady,” Peterson said.
In an interview with The Herald Journal, Olsen said her career in dispatch started in December of ‘96. After a stint in an accounts payable position for Logan City, former Logan City Police Chief Richard Hendricks told Olsen of an open dispatch position for which she was ultimately hired.
“At the time that I started, there was a little bit of turmoil going on,” Olsen said. “Cache County was turning it over to Logan City, and some of the employees were not happy about that.”
The training program for dispatchers had “gone out the window,” Olsen said, and by the end of her first week she was working the radios.
With the help of 911 Systems Administrator Bryan Low and others, Olsen said she knew not to be intimidated and carried herself with confidence despite the steep learning curve.
“I just didn’t want to make a fool of myself in front of these people,” Olsen said with a laugh.
Olsen said a dispatcher’s work is often overlooked, with many people never sparing a thought about emergency medical services until they need them. A dispatcher is the “unseen first responder,” Olsen said, often helping community members navigate the worst moment’s of their lives in real time.
“It’s really a thankless job,” Olsen said. “They don’t know who we are or exactly what we do.”
Dispatchers handle everything from verifying vehicle identification numbers to getting the initial reports of a violent crime. Olsen said part of a dispatcher’s job is adapting and staying abreast with changes. In the beginning, she said dispatchers utilized consoles and one small computer screen for their work. Now, the once-ubiquitous consoles, radios, phones and Rolodexes have been traded for various computer screens. She said the only thing that’s stayed the same was the need — the community always needs help.
“It is an ever-evolving job,” Olsen said.
Around two years ago, Olsen said she began ribbing her employer about retirement after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I just kept teasing them that I could retire,” Olsen said. “I said, ‘30 years are coming up with the city; I can retire.’”
After undergoing treatments, the cancer went into remission but Olsen decided to retire for the sake of her parents. When her mother broke her leg last November and spent the holiday season in a wheelchair, Olsen decided the time was right.
“I just see everything that (my parents) want to get done,” Olsen said. “I just decided that I could and it would be a good time to retire — maybe take a year off.”
Olsen said all the agencies in Cache Valley “play in the same sandbox,” and she’s strived to treat all agencies equally throughout her career. Despite quirks and peccadillos, Olsen said the interworking agencies are looking out for one another.
Whether you need them personally or not, Olsen said, dispatchers are always there for the community.
“It’s been a journey,” Olsen said. “It’s a good career; It’s a tough one.”