Mon, Apr. 12, 2004
The Miami Herald
Paula Dobek has never enjoyed the spotlight.
As a 911 operator for the Broward Sheriff's Office, the Davie mother of two prefers that publicity go to those who really need it.
But Dobek, 42, got her share of attention Monday as Sheriff Ken Jenne presented her with a certificate naming her Employee of the Year 2003.
The honor inevitably prompted questions about multiple sclerosis, a disease which has forced Dobek to work from a wheelchair the past few years.
''I guess I don't really think about my disability,'' she said. ``I just love my job.''
Jenne praised more than 325 BSO dispatchers in a brief ceremony Monday as part of National 911 Telecommunications Week.
''This is probably one of the most thankless jobs. What you do saves lives,'' said Jenne, recognizing BSO's four dispatch centers in Broward.
Dobek said her condition worsened five years ago when she began having difficulty walking. But her determination to remain in law enforcement did not waiver. After all, her father was in the Air Force for 30 years and her brother was a police officer in Dallas, Texas.
''It's a part of me,'' she said.
Dobek and her colleagues talked about the adrenaline that kicks in during an important call, like a highway chase or a high-profile murder. The job requires plenty of patience and the ability to compartmentalize your emotions.
''We hear the things that no one wants to hear,'' said Debbie Tipton, a dispatch operator for 16 years. ``But if you remember the calls -- and it's impossible to remember so many of them -- you think about the good ones.''
Many calls for help end tragically, Tipton said.
'You get everything from, `My child's at the bottom of a pool' to a guy calling to say his elderly wife has passed away in the middle of the night,'' she said.
But other calls end on positively, even joyously, like the woman who said she couldn't make it to the hospital in time to give birth to her triplets. Tipton helped guide the traumatized woman through the births.
''I'll always remember that one,'' she said.
Copyright © 2004, The Miami Herald