The calls began flooding into New York's emergency dispatch center just before 9 A.M. on September 11, 2001. People choking on smoke inside the World Trade Center begged operators to send help after one plane, then another, hit the Twin Towers.
The callers couldn't breathe. Should they break the windows? Should they jump?
Dispatchers fielded such questions and relayed the information to NYC police and firefighters. Some operators stayed on the phone with panicked people, begging them to stay calm even as callers realized they were going to die.
Three months after the tragedy, a group of chaplains from the Pacific Northwest visited the 911 operators at the consolidated dispatch center in Brooklyn.
"We were heartily welcomed," says Russ Guppy, a police chaplain in Tacoma, Washington. The country extolled the courage and bravery of police officers and firefighters, but tended to overlook the dispatchers; they had no critical event debriefings or extra time off for trauma.
"Dispatchers kept thanking us for remembering them," Guppy recalls. The chaplains stayed through two shifts to distribute 800 Bibles to dispatchers who came to talk with them during breaks. "It was an incredible day. We were walking on air when we left that evening," Guppy says.
In early 2004, Responder Life was launched—a ministry to all first responders, including police, fire and rescue teams, medics, federal agents, and 911 dispatchers.
The Portland, Oregon-based ministry began by hosting events for first responders. That included an appreciation dinner every September 11 to recognize emergency personnel, and a weekend summer camp for first responders and their families. But the group wanted ...1