A FAMILY AFFAIR
September 10, 2012
By Audrey Fraizer
For Heather Baker, emergency dispatching is a family affair.
The 35-year-old EMD from Baltimore County (Md.) 9-1-1 started in the profession 14 years ago and her mother, Catherine “Kitty” Rizza, has been the voice behind response at the same center since 1986. Her father, Ralph Rizza, also had invested 14 years in dispatch prior to his death in January 2006.
Despite the combined 28 years of 9-1-1 during much of her childhood, Baker didn’t grow up planning a career in dispatch.
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” she said. “But mom had always been working here and it was something she enjoyed. She never complained.”
Baker decided to give dispatch a shot and, like her mom, found the job to her liking. No day’s ever the same and she prefers staying behind the scenes to the medical, fire, and police responders she sends to emergencies.
“We never get to meet the people we help, but that hasn’t really bothered me,” she said. “It’s all part of the job.”
Baker’s under-the-radar experience changed in March when 4-year-old Riley Stunkel called 9-1-1 to report that her grandfather “Poppy” had collapsed. Riley’s 6-year-old sister, Emily, took over from there, providing Baker with all the right information.
“They did a great job,” Baker said. “They told me what happened and followed my instructions. They unlocked the door to let the police in. I wish every caller could be like them.”
An ambulance rushed “Poppy” to the hospital and later transported him to Shock Trauma. He was home two weeks later.
The call that undoubtedly helped save their grandfather’s life has received local and national attention. In May, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz honored the two girls and Baker and the trio also received recognition from the National 9-1-1 Education Coalition. In April, 9-1-1 for Kids presented them with hero awards at the Navigator conference.
Baker said the attention has been exciting. The center was recognized for doing something good and she was able to meet someone she assisted over the phone.
“Nice to put a face to the names,” Baker said.
This is not the first time Baker has been noticed for her work.
In 2008, she was named Baltimore County 9-1-1 Operator of the Year for her persistence in pinpointing a domestic violence situation. A misdirected Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) call came in from Texas and Baker, in Baltimore, was able to give police the information needed through the area’s communications center. She has also assisted in the delivery of babies and provided CPR instructions to bystanders calling in for cardiac arrest patients.
“We’re a very busy center,” she said. Baltimore County 9-1-1 receives more than 2,000 calls a day. In February, the county announced work was complete on a $57.6 million overhaul of the county’s public safety radio system and $18.5 million in upgrades to the county’s 9-1-1 center in the Circuit Court Building.