Audrey Fraizer

Audrey Fraizer

Case Exit

by Audrey Fraizer

Snow might be falling and the New Year ringing in, but it’s never too early to begin planning for your center’s annual National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week celebrations.

And what better way to mark the occasion than a clay modeling project that can relieve stress while, also, providing a bit of competition among a room full of Type A personalities?

That’s the magic behind Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) 911 center’s successful event in 2015, and it’s no secret that they borrowed the idea from a dispatcher who sculpts 911 protocols to ease the daily tension.

“We try a creative project every year at this time, and we liked what Kathy McCarty did,” said Cathy Singleton, CCSO, EMD-Q. “We figured we’d give it a try.”

McCarty’s work in clay was chronicled in the March/April 2013 issue of the Journal. What started as a request to mold a clay lapel to recognize the great work of dispatchers at the New Hampshire Bureau of Emergency Communications morphed into a personal hobby.

In the months following her first “release” of the lapel pin, McCarty extended her artistry in clay to 33 action figures, each depicting a medical condition related to the Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS). Her preferred “sculpting medium” is the polymer clay she finds ideal for the detail work each protocol model requires. She buys the clay in the multi-color packages and bakes the sculpture in an oven until it hardens.

Singleton read the story and brought the idea to CCSO Administrator Melanie Bailey, and she passed along the project to the supervisors.

The supervisors adopted and adapted the idea. Instead of polymer clay—a type of malleable plastic—they used commercial Play-Doh, the kids’ craft project medium composed of flour, water, salt, boric acid, and mineral oil. They also lowered their expectations, from one person sculpting every MPDS Protocol to picking and choosing by the center’s four squads of dispatchers.

They were given a week to turn in a maximum of five sculptures per squad.

The results were amazing, said Carolyn Turner, Squad Supervisor, CCSO 911 center.

“They really got their creative juices going,” she said.

The 30 figures created included the most visual of the MPDS v12.2 Protocols, such as Protocol 14: Drowning (Near)/Diving/Scuba Accident (which received first place), Protocol F: Childbirth–Delivery (fourth place), and Protocol 2: Allergies (Reactions)/Envenomations (Stings, Bites) (in this case a snakebite coming in fifth).

The fun, however, wasn’t only in the making or judging.

Turner and Singleton got a kick out of watching the process and the creative ways the different squads tried to find out what the others were doing. The ribbons awarded gave “bragging rights,” Turner said, within the center and the CCSO.

“We put them on display,” said Turner, whose squad produced the highest number of sculptures. “Everyone came to see them.”

The figures are now shrunken in history. When left out of an airtight container, it’s only a matter of hours until unattended dough is no longer fun to mold. After a day, the air-dry models were shrinking and cracking; they are preserved through photographs and future reminiscing.

Bailey doubts the project will be repeated in 2016 since they prefer something new to spring on dispatchers.

“It’s a learning experience that we try to make as fun as possible,” said Bailey, who suggested the project. “We try to shake things up each year.”

The modeling also had the benefit of relieving stress through the focus required in planning and creating and the dispatchers’ ability to put a conscious divide between their artwork and the daily work of being a 911 dispatcher.

“They were able to separate from the incident,” Bailey said. “And it turned out to be a good way for them to relax.”

National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week was born from an idea conceived in 1981 by Patricia Anderson of the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office, Calif., to set aside time to publicly recognize 911 professionals. It is now held during the second full week of April, which in 2016 will be April 10–16.