Though they have never traveled with the circus, Pahrump resident Ashley Castillo and her colleagues have the keen ability to juggle, keep their mental balance in check and maintain a distinct dedication to their profession.
Castillo is one of more than a dozen Nye County Sheriff’s Office emergency dispatchers.
Indeed, listening to law enforcement and fire department dispatches can at times, provide for elements of comedy, adventure, drama, and tragedy for those listening to police and fire department scanners.
Castillo has been a Nye County dispatcher for more than a decade after starting at the age of 20.
Anyone who calls 911 for an emergency has undoubtedly spoken to Castillo or her co-workers.
Crucial to the position is the ability to communicate and multi-task, as the job provides at many times a fair amount mental stress and anguish depending upon the emergency situation.
Dispatchers usually work 10-hour shifts, fielding emergency calls for the sheriff and fire departments throughout the county, as there are different protocols for each agency.
“You really have to have a thick skin to deal with many of the things that we deal with on a daily basis,” Castillo said. “The job can be stressful at times because we have to be able to carry on multiple conversations at one time as well as listen to things and actually comprehend what people are telling us on the phone. We also obviously have to listen to the radio at the same time and comprehend what the deputies or fire department are informing us of.”
For 11 years, Castillo has handled countless 911 calls, ranging from utter tragedy to the outright bizarre.
One recent call that springs to mind for Castillo was from a local mother whose young daughter was choking during dinner.
“The mother was frantically saying that her 8-year-old was turning blue and she wasn’t breathing,” Castillo recalled. “She had gone limp and was on the floor. I was able to give her instructions to dislodge whatever was in the child’s throat. I was able to get her through all of that and get the ambulance en route. It was a huge relief when I heard this child crying, coughing and then began talking. We receive a lot of training here and provide all of our employees with the training and all the resources they would need to provide any kind of instruction like that.”
As a longtime resident of Pahrump, Castillo noted that she routinely recognizes names of some individuals when sheriff’s deputies request a records check.
“We live in a small town and there have been instances where I do recognize names of acquaintances because that is always bound to happen,” she said. “Naturally you would treat it just like anybody else. You have to put any personal knowledge you have of that person aside.”
Interestingly, 911 dispatchers routinely speak with the same tone of voice over the radio, whether it’s a call about a person jaywalking or a physical domestic dispute in progress.
“If we sound like we’re excited or emotional, chances are we will excite the deputies that are responding and we don’t want to cause them any further stress than they already have,” she said. “We don’t want to display emotion over the radio at all.”
Castillo said if a dispatcher senses imminent danger from a particular situation, they will enact what’s known as a “Code Red,” where only emergency communications may be transmitted by deputies.
She also noted that one of the most important pieces of information dispatchers need on any 911 call is the location of the caller.
On the issue of domestic violence calls, Castillo said dispatchers regularly send at least two deputies to respond.
“We do that on any call that we feel would be an officer safety concern and domestic violence calls are especially notorious for being an officer safety issue,” she said. “A lot of times there are weapons in the home and due to the nature of the call, there is a potential for danger to the officer.”
At the other end of the spectrum, dispatchers do, from time to time, get their share of calls from residents that are best described as laughable.
They always manage to preserve their sense of professionalism.
“We get some calls that come through that are kind of comical, but we all maintain our composure,” she said. “There are times that we do have to hold back a chuckle and there are times that we have to hold back tears. We stay professional on the phone because it’s best not to get emotional.”
Additionally, Castillo said there have been instances over the years where dispatchers and deputies had to endure a literal “communication breakdown.”
“We have had situations where the power has gone out completely and our backup system has failed,” she said. “In that scenario, we have protocols set up so that we are prepared. We had just a minor hiccup and we were able to pick right back up and use our portable systems until the technicians were able to restore our main lines of communication.”
Yet another difficulty dispatchers face is the age-old prank call, usually at the hands of children when parents purchase a new cellphone.
“We get calls from kids playing on the phone all the time,” she said. “We generally try to find where they are and send a deputy out if we are able to locate them. Parents give their children cellphones as toys often when they are done with an old one. That’s a big problem nationwide when children are playing with cellphones and having 911 disconnects.”
Nye County Sheriff’s Sgt. David Boruchowitz said the importance of the role dispatchers play within the department cannot be overstated.
“Not only are our dispatchers a lifeline for our deputies and the community, I think they are the core of law enforcement,” he said. “If you think about everything that we do, if we didn’t have somebody here to answer the radio or send us resources, or respond to the public, in reality, law enforcement would cease to exist. We think about them as the core of our agency.”
While away from her job, Castillo, a married mother with two children, enjoys spending time camping, fishing and partaking in numerous other outdoor activities.
Contact reporter Selwyn Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @pvtimes