A Well-Kept Secret

Audrey Fraizer

Audrey Fraizer


If anyone happened to glance toward Stephen Zipprich during the Dispatcher of the Year announcement at NAVIGATOR 2023, his facial expression did not betray that he was completely taken off guard.

Zipprich, EMD, senior-level calltaker at the Bureau of Emergency Communications (BOEC), Portland, Oregon (USA), was  truly surprised. The well-kept secret was just that up until the moment Brett Patterson launched into the annual award’s introduction.

“Each call teaches us something and beyond that is the person who really cares, who really means to help the caller,” said Patterson, IAED Medical Council of Standards chair. This year’s awardee, Patterson continued, not only communicated well with the caller but is also credited “with a call that helped us develop the Academy’s new protocol” for behavioral health and first-party callers (Protocol 25).

The audience listened to the recorded call, which had been transferred to the BOEC from a national behavioral health helpline counselor. Zipprich picked up to hear the caller saying that she was holding a knife and had taken large doses of the antidepressants Trazodone and Sertraline.

Police response was dispatched. The caller pleaded over the phone, “Please don’t let me die today.” Seeing police officers arrive, however, she hesitated. “I don’t want police here.” Zipprich said it was for her own protection.

Zipprich talked to the caller with compassion throughout the call until help arrived on scene. The caller did no further harm to herself.

“Stephen works to make things better around him,” said BOEC Quality Assurance Manager Ryan DesJardins, who accompanied Zipprich to the stage at NAVIGATOR. “He stays with the standards to do the right thing for every caller.”

BOEC QA Kory Oman later described the planning to keep Zipprich unaware of his nomination and subsequent award. They hit a snag when the Academy rejected a low-resolution photo sent as part of the nomination packet.

“We finally had to tell Stephen that much, that he was nominated, so we could take the picture,” Oman said. Oman was taking the EFD-Q exam when the call came in from the Academy.

“It was tough, but we wanted to keep it a surprise,” Oman said. “He thought he was going to NAVIGATOR as part of a random selection [to attend the conference].” They obviously pulled off the ploy.

Zipprich was elated by the award.

“I had no idea,” he said. “I feel so honored. It’s awesome.” Zipprich remembered the call once it started playing at NAVIGATOR, and the caller frightened of further trouble for being in a crisis state.

DesJardins credits Zipprich’s natural composure to his emergency dispatch success and knowing how to add the personal touch. “He’s a great influence on others.”

Zipprich was attached to the profession from his first day of employment at BOEC 10 years ago. He had been in electrical sales and looking for a change. The more he learned about emergency dispatch, the more it appealed to him. He applied and was hired. He latched on to calltaking. “It’s about reaching out to someone and letting them know you care about them,” he said. “I am extremely grateful I can do this.”

NAVIGATOR 2023 was not Zipprich’s introduction to the conference. He attended in 2019 prior to BOEC’s implementation of MPDS®. He was a proponent from the start, DesJardins said. “He saw the value in Protocol and understood the difference it could make in the service he provides.”

Zipprich counts himself lucky. Not only for the recognition but, also, for the profession. “If you can get into a job that you enjoy, it’s not work, and this isn’t for me.”

Zipprich was among 51 Emergency Dispatchers in North America nominated for the 2023 Dispatcher of the Year award. The BOEC provides service to agencies throughout Multnomah County, including Corbett, Fairview, Gresham, Maywood Park, Portland, Sauvie Island, Troutdale, and Wood Village.