OGDEN — Emergency dispatchers might come across as “curt, short or uncaring,” a stereotype Cody Ray hopes will be dispelled when people watch a new reality TV show about the 911 operators.
“It has nothing to do with cutting you off,” said Ray, a lead dispatcher with the Weber Area Dispatch 911 and Emergency Services District. “It has more to do with getting the most important information first.”
The priority is to glean enough details to get paramedics, firefighters or police headed to an emergency right away, Ray said.
He said dispatchers ask key, specific questions that are vital to rapid emergency response.
“A lot of people want to tell you a story,” Ray said. “I think sometimes we can come across as curt, short or uncaring.”
Weber’s dispatchers can be seen at work on several episodes of “Emergency Call,” a reality TV series that airs Monday evenings on ABC.
The Oct. 19 episode will focus on the Weber dispatchers, said Tina Mathieu, executive director of the dispatch district.
The district has a budget of about $8 million and handles dispatch services for 26 federal, state and local agencies in Weber and Morgan counties.
Production crews were in Ogden filming for two weeks in June and July and returned for another two weeks in August, Mathieu said.
“I think the show is a great format, the most realistic portrayal of what a day is like for us,” Ray said. “All these calls are real. It’s kind of like ‘COPS’ for dispatchers.”
While the dispatchers’ part of the calls are faithfully portrayed, voice actors are used to recreate the incoming callers’ words.
“The voice-over, that’s to keep the caller anonymous to the public,” Mathieu said.
Mathieu and Ray said the highlight of next week’s episode might be a high-speed chase July 4 that wound through multiple police jurisdictions.
“This guy had a tirade all over Northern Utah and ended up getting stuck by a gate,” Ray said.
He said the producers made dispatchers comfortable with the process.
“It wasn’t enough of a distraction to take away from the work,” Ray said. “We definitely knew they were there, with the big cameras and the extra lighting.”
Mathieu said filming was done in 12-hour shifts, 3 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Ray said he’s been a dispatcher long enough, about 12 years, taking thousands of calls, that “you’re so used to the majority of things.”
But about once a week, a call comes in that causes “a dopamine rush, super stress hits and the adrenaline kicks in,” he said. “You know there’s a problem going to happen if you’re not getting someone there quick.”
He said every dispatcher is different, but for him the worst calls are when children have emergencies or have died.
“Even if you don’t have kids, that just hits you hard,” he said.
Also, reports of “officer down” or a firefighter mayday, he said — “those are just awful.”
“But when people call you on the worst day of their life, they deserve a competent professional. If you call 911, you want to get the help you need.”
Mathieu said the producers of “Emergency Call” reached out to the Weber district to gauge interest in participating in the show.
Employees who were filmed had to sign releases and the district received $400 a day from the show, per contract, she said.
The production team had strict COVID-19 requirements, which went along with the district’s own standards, Mathieu said.
Hosting the show “wasn’t an imposition at all,” Mathieu said.
“It was a really good opportunity to highlight what our dispatchers do,” she said, “to show how hard it is to be a dispatcher — hard and rewarding.”
She said Weber-Morgan’s dispatchers are “kind of the unseen heroes.”